Readings, Rituals and Responses to make Christmas Meaningful

As we enter into Advent — the time when Christians prepare their hearts to celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas — may God’s peace be with you in a special way. And as we enter the twelfth month of the coronavirus pandemic, we desperately need peace.

In my province, COVID-19 cases set new records almost daily. In my city, we are in our second strict quarantine. While we hoped to flatten the curve and return to normal life by now, wearing masks and physically distancing have become the new normal. Our energy and commitment to stay the course are waning. Our American neighbours just celebrated ThanksgivingBronze angel, Shepherd's Field Church, Bethlehem under lockdown, and we are afraid Christmas will be the same for us. It is hard to plan or predict how to celebrate the holidays when it isn’t safe to welcome loved ones into our homes or go to restaurants. We need new activities that remind us of the deeper meaning of Christmas, and can be celebrated safely.

Whether or not you follow Jesus as Lord, I invite you to follow Jesus as teacher during this time of preparation. Jesus’ universal message is love, and his mission is peace. When he was born, angels announced with joy, “Peace on earth, and good will to people, on whom God’s favour rests!” Reflecting on Jesus’ timeless teachings about peace, love, and living life in all its fullness will nourish all of our souls at this time of year when we focus on love and peace. So let’s embark on an Advent journey together, shall we?

 

Jesus’ universal message is love, and his mission is peace.


There is a knowing that comes from the mind, and a knowing that comes from the heart. Both are important; both are integral parts of us. Some of us may be taking our first deep look into Jesus’ teachings, engaging our minds. Others of us may have celebrated Advent so often that we long to move out of our heads, which can recite its familiar verses and hymns by memory, into an experience of the heart. I invite you to engage both your mind and heart this Advent through readings and rituals, then let them change you through your responses.

 

Readings

  • Monday Meditations. The daily prayer podcast I follow, Pray As You Go, will post Advent teachings for the next five Mondays. Open BibleYou can pray them audibly at Pray As You Go or visually at Sacred Space, then reflect on the teachings throughout each week.
  • Daily Meditations. Many also love Richard Rohr’s daily meditations on Christian living. Today’s reading is especially relevant to peace, remembering the radically counter-cultural movement Jesus founded, which embraced loving even one’s enemies, doing good to all, and renouncing war. You may want to read Richard’s thought-provoking meditations daily throughout December.
  • The Bible. If you only choose one reading, however, I recommend The Gospel of Luke in the Bible. It includes the beloved traditional Advent readings about Jesus' birth, and its 24 chapters make wonderful daily readings about Jesus' life and teachings from December 1 to Christmas Eve. To read it with fresh eyes, try The Message’s contemporary translation. For a more literal translation, try the New American Standard Bible. Most importantly, remember to open both your mind and your heart to its message.*

 

Rituals

In addition to readings, rituals are important components of the spiritual life. Here are a few actions that can set Advent apart from daily life.

  • Light a candle. The traditional Advent wreath contains five candles. Advent wreath; credit: Alwyn LadellOne is lit each Sunday with Bible readings and reflections about hope, peace, joy and love. The fifth candle is lit on Christmas, representing Jesus’ birth into the world. Here are some prayers and verses you can read as you light one candle each week. You may wish to prayerfully relight the weeks' candles as you read your daily reflection or relax in the evening.
  • Shine your light. In the Northern hemisphere, December is the darkest month. And as we face our twelfth month of the coronavirus, a shadow darkens the world. Let’s put (LED) candles in our windows, lights on our houses, and brighten the darkness with light and hope.
  • Decorate your home. Especially as we spend more time at home this year, it is important to make it a sacred space. You can do so by decorating with nativity scenes, wreaths, trees, stars, and angels.
  • Listen to music. Music is a solace to the soul, and reflects the diversity of human experience. As you journey through Advent, listen to music that reflects the themes for each week – hope, peace, joy, love, and Jesus. I’ve curated a PositiveSpin Christmas Spotify playlist for just this season.

 

Responses

As we read, practice rituals, and reflect, we will discover responses which resonate with us personally. Here are a few to inspire your own.Star in the ceiling of Shepherd's Field Church, Bethlehem

  • Heal the world. One of Jesus’ primary responses to human need was healing. Is there a way you can hasten the world’s healing of the coronavirus by staying home more faithfully or upgrading to three-layer masks?
  • Feed the hungry. Not only did Jesus feed souls, he fed bodies. On two occasions he multiplied lunches into enough food to feed thousands. Consider donating to a food bank or humanitarian organisation this Christmas in accordance with your means.
  • Spread joy. Joy is more difficult to find for many people this winter. Increase both your joy and your friend’s by mailing them a card or gift, going Christmas caroling virtually, or dropping off some baking.

 

If December seems darker this year, remember that when the night is darkest, the stars shine more brightly. Let’s light literal and metaphorical candles this Advent to dispel darkness and reflect the Eternal Light.

 

*The Bible App puts various translations, narrations and reading plans at your fingertips.

Photos: Threshhold of The Shepherd's Field Church of the Franciscan Custody of the Hold Land, Bethlehem; Angel over the doorway of the church; Star in the ceiling of the church; The Bible (credit: Carole St. Laurent). Advent wreath (CC, credit: Alwyn Ladell).

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