advent

The weirdness of Christmas 2020

Jack Skellington, the main character in the 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas, asks some great questions. (Photo by Christin Noelle/Unsplash)

“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)

A movie seemingly made for Christmas 2020 appeared almost 30 years ago—a creepy little stop-motion musical, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Was it a Christmas movie, a Halloween movie, or both? This year, I feel like I’m trying to prepare for Christmas in a rather ghastly Halloween world.  

Under the sparkling stars

Middle Eastern Christians re-enact the Christmas story in Nazareth. (Photo by D. Michael Hostetler)

The carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” paints a Christmas card picture of the ancient town of the Nativity: sparkling stars lighting quiet streets, a Holy Baby resting in a manger as the townspeople sleep, unaware. That idyllic view was replaced by a fuller perspective when my family moved to Israel in 1996.

Making sense of the bleakness

(Photo by Greyson Joralemon/Unsplash)

“An urgent reality … a state of public health emergency.” This is how our premier, Jason Kenney, described our situation in Alberta last week because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is probably not news to anyone that the number of new cases in Alberta has continued to rise dramatically over the last couple weeks. Hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients and intensive care units are nearly at full capacity. Many of us have at least been indirectly affected now and perhaps we even know one of the many beloved people who have died due to complications of the virus.

Gifts received, gifts given

(Photo by Kira auf der Heide/Unsplash)

As Christmas approaches, many of us are thinking about gifts. The beautifully wrapped packages under the Christmas tree, of course. Also other types of gifts—the kind that we can receive and give at any time of the year. The gifts that require more than a click on a website or a trip to the mall.

Waiting in the dark

(Image by Dale Forbes/Pixabay)

waiting in the dark

this season and place
tilted away from the sun
provides generous hours
of darkness

darkness may harbour
breathtaking fear
endless dread of unknowns
aching hearts

darkness may host
healing rest
lovemaking
visitations in dreams

babies grow strong
in dark wombs
turnips and beet roots
stretch and fatten

in dark earth
darkness provides
a poignant canvas for
constellations ablaze
meteor showers
lunar rhythms

An Anabaptist does Advent

'One of the ways we can expand the table and experience community with the wider Church is by following the rhythms of the church calendar.' (Image by cocoparisienne/Pixabay)

I don’t recall talking about Advent in the church in which I grew up, an Anabaptist church with a conservative evangelical bent. Certainly we didn’t mention Lent. And those other church days, with names like “Epiphany” and “Trinity Sunday” and “Feast of Christ the King”? Those weren’t even in my universe.

Goshen College’s annual online Advent devotions to start Nov. 25

GOSHEN, Ind. — Goshen College will offer annual online weekday devotions to help believers make time and space in their hearts and minds to reflect during the season of Advent. Beginning Nov. 25, the week before the first Sunday of Advent, and culminating on Christmas Day, Goshen College students, faculty and staff will provide weekday reflections based on the lectionary Scripture passages.

Pregnant with peace

Artwork by Merle Yin, grade 11, Mennonite Collegiate Institute

Artwork by Celena Harder, grade 10, Mennonite Collegiate Institute

Artwork by Christy Zhang, grade 12, Mennonite Collegiate Institute

Artwork by Erynn Heinrichs, grade 12, Mennonite Collegiate Institute

Artwork by Autumn Wieler, grade 11, Mennonite Collegiate Institute

Artwork by Julia Suderman, grade 10, Mennonite Collegiate Institute

Artwork by Karly Wiebe, grade 12, Mennonite Collegiate Institute

Artwork by Taya Friesen, grade 12, Mennonite Collegiate Institute

‘Midnight on ocean’ by Shirley Zhang, grade 12, Rockway Mennonite Collegiate

"Into the woods"by Vivian Chau, grade 11, Rockway Mennonite Collegiate

From the moment we learned I was pregnant, the baby we longed for was continually on my mind. What would it look like? What kind of personality would it have? How would this baby change our life? I was truly “expecting.” Expectant waiting with our baby in mind transformed not just me and my husband, but our whole extended family.

An everlasting light

Artwork by Emma Unger, Grade 11, Mennonite Collegiate Institute

God of grace, today we pray for peace for the City of Bethlehem.
It has had more than its share of conflict,
as it has changed from a sleepy little town to a bustling city
that is visited by millions each year.
Lord, you know the walls that separate people in Bethlehem:
walls of concrete, walls of prejudice, walls of hatred,

Significant tidings

What are the significant stories in this issue? When I asked this question in the office, the answer came back: “They’re all significant.” This, our Christmas issue, is chock-full of stories to pay attention to—with our prayers and actions. 

Two international stories stand out—some good news and some heart-breaking news.

Which Jesus are you waiting for?

The 1683 Gero cross in the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

'In our homes, Advent is a time of preparation. We shop for presents, hang wreaths, display cherished nativity scenes and decorate trees.'

Advent, according to one definition, is “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.” Yet along the way, we’ve come to associate Advent not with arrival, but with waiting.

A walk in the dark

In the northern hemisphere, Advent comes to us in the darkest time of the year. Christmas is advertised and celebrated as the happiest time of the year, and for some it is just that. But for others, Christmas is indeed the darkest time, where loneliness seems lonelier, when separation feels more separate, and despair calls our name.

Making space for the stranger

We are accustomed to reading the narrative of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) as something of an ethereal event, a moment of encounter with the divine realm during which Mary’s feet didn’t quite touch the ground. But in our preoccupation with the other-worldly, we can overlook the fact that this is one of the most this-worldly narratives in the entire Bible, since its principal concern is Mary’s sharing of her body and blood with God, making it possible for God to become incarnate. [1]

And the Child Will Lead Them

A highlight of the worship on the fourth Sunday of Advent for me was the children's story. Well, actually, after the children's story when the storyteller asked four of the children to ask someone in the congregation to light one of the Advent candles. Children calling adults' attention to the Advent candles? How appropriate.  Really, it is the children that see more than adults do, pointing out the unexpected, speaking the unspoken, asking the unasked questions. When is it that we stop being children to unconditionally follow the norms of society at all kinds of costs?

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Lament and Lego Parades

Sitting with the sadness. The third advent's theme was "Sadness Changes to Gladness." The part that is so hard to swallow, though, is that "changing to gladness" doesn't necessarily mean the sadness goes away. In fact, there are so many reasons to lament and be sad. Broken relationships, war, poverty, destruction of creation, unhealthy patterns of consumption, greed, and violence invade every aspect of our lives in one way or another.

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First Advent: Presence in the Chaos

With the first Sunday of advent come the simple little changes that I have come to make to mark this season as set apart. Placing candles on the table, shifting devotionals from regular materials to special advent resources, getting out Christmas music and decorations, and planning special worship with our faith community all happen year after year during this season. 

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