בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Bārūch atāh Adonai Elohênū melekh ha`ôlām šeheḥeyānû veqîmānû vehigî`ānû lazman hazeh

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us life and sustained us and brought us to this season

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Second Advent: Love

"Our King and Savior draweth nigh. O come, let us adore him!"

 

Second purple candle lit
Love infuses Luke’s narrative in the first chapter of his Gospel. Implicit in the story of Zacharias and Elisabeth is their love for each other. The miracle of human conception and birth underlies their story as well as that of Mary, reminding us of the love that parents have for their children. Further, these three characters, as well as Joseph from Matthew 1, exhibit great love for the Lord, trusting in his promises and being willing to be obedient to his commands. But above all, interwoven into their stories is God’s great love for them and for all humanity. Indeed, this love, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God, underlies the entire story of Jesus’ birth, sacrifice, and resurrection, for God so loved the world that he sent his Only Begotten Son (see 1 Nephi 11:22; 14:26; John 3:16–17). This love was not only manifest at Jesus’ birth and with his Atonement; it can and should be present in our lives now, and it will fill the world with his return when he establishes his millennial reign, ruling with love as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

The second candle of an Advent wreath can be used to celebrate this love that God has shared with us in the person of his Son Jesus. This love is also found in Christ’s love for us, and indeed, God calls upon us to share this pure love of Christ, or charity (Moroni 7:47–48), with others not only at Christmas time but always (see God So Loved the World, 62).

Second Advent 2017

The Promised Advent
  • “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands . . .” (Isaiah 49:13–16, emphasis added).
  • “And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou? And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins . . . And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh . . . And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:14–22, emphases added).

On the Eve of His Coming: The Annunciation to Mary

The Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth
As we draw closer to Christmas on the Second Sunday of Advent, I suggest that families also read the story of the annunciation to Mary.  This brings the promises of the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon to the very verge of realization even as it focuses on the miracle of the incarnation.
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women."
Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end."
Then said Mary unto the angel, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" And the angel answered and said unto her, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible."
And Mary said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." And the angel departed from her." (Luke 1:26–38)




The combination of these scriptures about the promised advent that focus on love together with the story of Gabriel's annunciation to Mary find musical expression in the traditional Advent hymn Veni, Redemptor Gentium or "Redeemer of Nations, Come." Composed by St. Ambrose of Milan c. 397, I share a translation of just the first three verses here:

Redeemer of the nations, come;
Virgin's Son, here make Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.
Not by human flesh and blood;
By the Spirit of our God
Was the Word of God made flesh,
Woman's offspring, pure and fresh.

Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.

Though much of the video footage from "The Nativity Story" used with this song comes from later in the Infancy Narrative, the words of Amy Grant's contemporary song, "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)" also beautifully catches Mary's perspective as she accepted her divine call with faith.


I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I've done
Holy Father you have come
And chosen me now
To carry your son

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone
Be with me now
Be with me now
Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of heaven
Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong
Help me be
Help me
Second Advent 2019 with Rachel and Samuel


The Love That Christ Brings

  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16–17, emphasis added).
  • “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever . . . wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he has bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ . . .” (Moroni 7:47–48a, emphasis added).


Looking Forward to Christ's Second Advent

  • "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons [and daughters] of God . . . Beloved, now are we the sons [and daughters] of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:1–2).
The traditional Anglican collect for Second Advent from the Book of Common Prayer reads:
Merciful God, who didst send thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Music for Advent

One of the earliest Christmas carols is “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (Corde natus ex parentis), a Latin poem written by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, who lived between A.D. 348 and about 405. Later sing to the haunting Medieval plainchant Divinium mysterium, the five of its original nine verses that appear below beautifully capture the second Advent theme of love, Jesus’ premortal divinity, the miracle of his conception, and the praise and honor that we owe him:

Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega —
he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see
evermore and evermore.

O that birth forever blessed,
when a virgin, blest with grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bore the Savior of our race;
and the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore.

This is he whom seers in old time
chanted of with one accord,
whom the voices of the prophets
promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long-expected;
let creation praise its Lord
evermore and evermore.

Let the heights of heaven adore him;
angel hosts, his praises sing:
powers, dominions, bow before him
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
every voice in concert ring
evermore and evermore.

Christ, to you, with God the Father
and the Spirit, there shall be
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and the shout of jubilee:
honor, glory, and dominion
and eternal victory
evermore and evermore.

Different carols recalling the love and adoration that we feel toward God and his Son can be sung as part of a family celebration of Advent. Though neither of these is strictly an Advent carol, two of our favorites are “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “O Holy Night” because of their references to our symbolically coming to adore the baby King at his birth. Although the exact origins of the text of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and its tune are uncertain, the earliest Latin text, Adeste fideles, is attributed to John Francis Wade, an English Catholic who wrote it about 1742. We like to sing this carol on the Second Sunday of Advent because its chorus, which repeats the phrase “Oh, come, let us adore him,” reflects the love that we feel for Jesus.

 

“O Holy Night” similarly reflects the theme of adoration with its refrain that begins with “fall on your knees.”  Originally a French song with words by Placide Cappeau (1808–77) and a musical setting by Adolphe Adam (1803–56), its title in that language is Cantique de Noèl or Minuit Chrétiens. In addition to the adoration expressed in its repeated chorus, “O Holy Night” also accords well with the Advent theme of love in its final verse. (see God So Loved the World, 63).
Truly he taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name. 
 
When Rachel was young, one year as a Christmas present my sister, Lori Despain, lovingly recreated the felt Advent calendar that we had had as children. It, too, has become a treasured part of our Christmas season traditions.






Saturday, November 27, 2021

Celebrating Advent


Taken from Good Tidings of Great Joy: An Advent Celebration of the Savior's Birth, 16-17.
For other Christmas ideas, see the page "Preparing for Christmas"


“When I was very young and living in East Germany, Christmas in our family began four weeks before Christmas Eve with the beginning of Advent. We made a fresh cut wreath from a fur or a spruce and put four candles on top of it and placed it on our kitchen table. On the fourth Sunday before Christmas, we lit the first candle. Then each night until Christmas, my family gathered around the table and sang Christmas songs and listened to Christmas stories. . . . Advent was a time of anticipation and hope and it brought a special feeling into our humble home as we prepared for something holy and beautiful. Each Sunday we lit one additional candle, by the fourth Sunday our expectations for the coming joyous events had reached their peak." (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, address delivered at First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional, Salt Lake City, December 2008, transcription of audio; available at http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,8450-1-4729-1,00.html)

Giotto Bondone, The Nativity (Wikimedia Commons)
As part of preparing for Christmas, Christians from some backgrounds observe a custom called Advent. This observance takes its name from the Latin term adventus, which means "coming" or "appearance."  As such, Advent is a way that some choose to celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world at his birth; focus on his presence in their lives now; and look forward to his return in glory in the future. Whether gathered in church or at home, those who observe Advent today use the Sundays leading up to Christmas to prepare themselves through scriptures, music, and other traditions. While Advent is not a regular part of LDS practice, individual families, such as ours, have found that incorporating some aspects of it into their own traditions at home can be a wonderful way to keep the Christmas season Christ-centered.

Advent was originally a solemn, preparatory period before newly converted Christians were baptized on January 6. That day was selected for such baptisms because it was the day, particularly in the East, that commemorated Jesus' own baptism. Perhaps because of that date's proximity to Christmas, Pope Gregory the Great (A.D. 590-604) later established Advent as a period of preparation anticipating the Feast of the Nativity, a period that he set as beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. While the Reformation later led some Protestants to stop observing Advent, Martin Luther, who loved the Christmas season, felt that it was still a useful way of teaching children and families more about the importance of the coming of the Babe of Bethlehem. As a result, Advent continued to be particularly important in Germany, from where many of its customs have spread.

In the German tradition, Advent is often anticipated by the strains of Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, a Lutheran hymn composed by Philipp Nicolai in 1598 that is based upon the Parable of the Ten Virgins found in Matthew 25:113. The idea is that as we move into the Advent season, we should be like the five wise virgins, who are prepared and watching with lamps trimmed. Perhaps its most famous setting is by Johann Sebastian Bach, whose cantata featuring it was first performed on November 27, 1731 on Trinity XVII, the last Sunday of the liturgical year right before Advent.

An English translation of its lyrics include the following lines:
Awake, calls the voice to us of the watchmen high up in the tower;
Awake, you city of Jerusalem.
Midnight the hour is named; they call to us with bright voices;
Where are you, wise virgins?
Indeed, the Bridegroom comes; rise up and take your lamps,
Alleluia!
Make yourselves ready for the wedding, you must go to meet Him.


Perhaps the best known Advent custom is the lighting of the candles in an Advent wreath, a simple or decorated evergreen wreath with four candles placed in the circle and sometimes with a single white candle in the center.  [For a basic wreath to order online, see https://www.amazon.com/Traditional-Pine-Cone-Advent-Wreath/dp/B001AYECU4]

 In 2002, our family decided to incorporate Advent into our own Christmas traditions, and it became a particular favorite of our daughter, Rachel. She was five at the time, and I remember how much I enjoyed explaining to her the symbolism of the small wreath that we had purchased, describing how the wreath represents the never-ending circle of God's love, showing that he is the same forever in his love toward his people. The green of the wreath, as in the Christmas tree, represents the hope of eternal life that comes through Christ and serves as a reminder of the freshness of God's love and promises. The light of the candles reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the World, that his birth represented the coming of that light into darkness, and that we are called to reflect that light in our lives.

Traditionally the four candles of an Advent wreath are purple, the color of royalty, although one is sometimes pink or rose-colored. We decided to include the central, white candle in our wreath, which we light on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day. Each Sunday before Christmas an additional candle is lit, creating a beautiful stepped-effect as the previous weeks' candles burn down farther. After lighting each candle, we take turns reading scriptures that illustrate Advent themes, which we draw from the Book of Mormon as well as from the Old and New Testaments. After singing a carol, we have family prayer and then proceed to more fun traditions, like opening the day's pocket in our Advent calendar and enjoying a treat together. 

Rachel and Samuel with our Advent calendar
Traditions differ regarding the symbolism of the candles, but a common one is that they represent the hope, love, joy, and peace that come through Jesus Christ. In weekly posts I will share ideas for scriptures, songs, and other customs that families can use on the four Sundays of Advent as well as some that they may incorporate into their Christmas Eve traditions.

Each weekly Advent post will be divided into sections.  The first section, The Promised Advent, will review prophecies of the nativity of Christ.

Then in a section called On The Eve of His Coming we will then bring the story into the gospels by reflecting the experiences of Zacharias, Mary, Elisabeth, and Joseph as they witnessed the realization of these prophecies.  For each of these vignettes I have included pictures of the sites in the Holy Land where, by tradition, they are believed to have occurred. The following video collage gives a foretaste of what these are like:



The next section will then reflect upon how Jesus fulfills that day's Advent theme, whether it by Hope, Love, Joy, or Peace.

The final section, Looking Forward to Christ's Second Advent, will consist of a scripture looking forward to Jesus' promised Second Coming and the blessings that will be realized at his return.

I also frequently feature special music for Advent. Some, such as "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," are almost always Advent, but many customary Advent hymns are not as familiar now. As a result, even though some traditions reserve Christmas carols for Christmas Eve and the twelve days including and following Christmas, I have selected many familiar Christmas songs that nonetheless accord with the theme of each Advent Sunday.

At the end of the season I will then reflect on the the focus of Advent, salvation, by considering Book of Mormon prophecies of Christ.  Finally, I will consider how we can keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year.





Sunday, November 21, 2021

First Advent: Hope


"Our King and Savior draweth nigh. O come, let us adore him!"

 

First purple candle lit
"Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God . . . And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." (Isaiah 40:5)

While the four Advent themes of hope, love, joy, and peace are sometimes recalled in different orders, hope is almost always the theme celebrated on the First Sunday of Advent.  As the first candle of an Advent wreath is lit, a family choosing to use this custom as a way of preparing for Christmas can thus use the occasion to remember how the Christmas Story recalls the birth of the Promised King, an event prophesied and hoped for from the time of Adam until that first Christmas.  

An example of this hope is reflected in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus as well as the angel’s message to Joseph, promising the birth of Immanuel, or “God with us” (Matthew 1:1-23).  But the celebration of Advent does not just remember Jesus’ first coming. It can also celebrate his presence and importance in our lives now while also helping us look forward to his second coming.
First Advent 2019, with a new addition, Rachel's finance, Luke Petersen

Reading scriptures that reflect these aspects of the hope that we have in Jesus is a valuable part of a family celebration of Advent.  Traditionally Advent scriptures are drawn from Old Testament prophecies that were taken to anticipate the coming of Christ. In our family we draw passages from the New Testament and the Book of Mormon as well, some of which, also look forward to the Second Coming or the promises that will come to us in the next life.

First Advent 2017



The Promised Advent
  • “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn . . . ” (Isaiah 61:1–3, emphasis added)
  • “For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.  Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name . . .” (Jacob 4:4–5, emphasis added)
The first Sunday of Advent is when we set up our Nativity.






On the Eve of His Coming: The Annunciation to Zacharias and the Benedictus
A plaque with the Benedictus in `En Kerem

I suggest that after discussing that week's theme families also consider reading each week one of the familiar parts of Luke 1 and Matthew 1 that lead up to the actual birth of Jesus.  This helps set the realization of the prophecies of Jesus' birth into the immediate context of their fulfillment, and it also adds to the excitement of the Christmas season as we join Zacharias and Elisabeth and then Mary and Joseph in their experiences.  

For the first week of Advent, I recommend reading the Annunciation to Zacharias, focusing on how the promise of John the Baptist's birth revolved around how he would prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 1:5–17).  This can be followed by the Benedictus, Zacharias' prophetic blessing to his son, which focuses above all on the salvation that the promised Messiah was to bring (Luke 1:67–79).


And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel;
for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David;
As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets,
which have been since the world began:
That we should be saved from our enemies,
and from the hand of all that hate us;
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers,
and to remember his holy covenant;
The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies
might serve him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before him,
all the days of our life.

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest:
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people
by the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God
whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:67–79)
 
Click here to see a brief video clip of me reading the Benedictus, the blessing that Zacharias later pronounced upon his son.        
 
On the steps of the Church of John the Baptist at `En Kerem
Samuel watching groups of pilgrims at the John the Baptist Church
         



















The Hope That Christ Brings

  • “Therefore Being Justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:1–5, emphases added)
  • “And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal . . .” (Moroni 7:41, emphasis added)


Looking Forward to Christ's Second Advent
  • “Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:  Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.” (Mark 13:35–36, emphasis added)
  • For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17)
The traditional Anglican collect from the Book of Common Prayer reads:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This is a lovely literary reflection on both the first and the second Advent of Jesus.


Music for Advent

Music is an important part of the celebration of Advent as it is of the Christmas season generally.  In some traditions only carols especially meant for Advent are sung in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with Christmas carols themselves being reserved for Christmas Eve and the “Twelve Days of Christmas” that begin with Christmas Day.  However, families can use any familiar carols for their home celebrations, though our family always opens our Christmas season by singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which is the traditional carol for the beginning of Advent.   


The original Latin text dates back as early as the reign of Charlemagne (771–814).  The English text and the tune that is now familiar were not published until 1854, though the melody seems to have been based on an earlier French original. 
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny.
From depths of hell thy people save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

Chorus

O come, O Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here,
And drive away the shades of night,
And pierce the clouds and bring us light.

Chorus

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might
Who to thy tribes, on Sinai’s height
In ancient times did’st give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Chorus