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  ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy 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 quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Hallo again to all.

A wreath of greens. Lighting a single candle. The imagery of the collect based on Romans 13. The new church year has arrived. The season of expectation, of waiting, of preparation—culminating in the celebration of the birth of the Chosen One. Yes, Advent is upon us.

The Advent collect is one of our favourites. We have heard it, read it, prayed it each year since childhood on Sundays in church and then again each evening around our family Advent wreath from the first day of Advent until Christmas Eve.

This year, the so-familiar words readily bring to mind the turmoil and violence around the globe, the indifference of people to the suffering of others, the vying for being right over being compassionate, and we see these for what they are: works of darkness. We look inside ourselves and see those uncharitable, negative, and hurtful things we have thought, said, or done, and know them to be works of darkness as well. Each day we pray the Advent collect for the grace to cast these out. Each day we pray for the grace of God to aid us in putting on the armour of light: for new hope and new reminders to help us prepare for the Coming.

Perhaps you are like we were as children: the rich language and imagery of the Advent collect held our attention each night when the Advent wreath candles were lit. It did not bother us when we were small to have an additional collect before the evening meal for the second, third, and fourth weeks of Advent. Two collects meant more than one candle flame to watch. Two collects meant we were closer to Christmastide.

As young parents and church school teachers, we sought ways to teach about the season of Advent as something much more than 'it is almost Christmas'. One entertaining and instructive project that our young families and students enjoyed was making a Jesse Tree with handmade ornaments to represent different Biblical figures or ideas that are fulfilled through the birth of the Christ Child. A sampling of websites that provide instructions on how to make and use a Jesse Tree include this one and this one from the parish of the King of Peace. Other ideas can also be found on our Advent Resources page.

One year, the church school superintendent gave each child a booklet by the Revd Arden Mead, What Shall We Name Him?, to take home for use in conjunction with the Advent wreath at the evening meal during the week. The introduction begins:

   'You will name him Jesus,' the angel told both Mary and Joseph, and that is the name we still use most often when we talk about our dear Savior. That name has a special meaning, which you will learn about in this book. The Bible tells us that Jesus has other names too, lots of them, and all of those names have special meanings too; they help us understand who Jesus is and what he does for us.

There follows an illustrated page for each day in Advent with a Bible verse featuring one of the names Jesus is called in scripture, a short explanation, a prayer appropriate for young children to read, and a question to talk about together at the meal. Families found it to be an engaging activity for both parents and children. Do you think you could list 28 names for the Saviour and provide an appropriate matching Bible verse for each? We certainly can't—at least not without our now worn and somewhat tattered booklet. We haven't seen this little resource for sale in recent years, but if you have seen it available for purchase or download, please let us know. We would like to give copies to our godchildren and young friends.

As an adult, we like to read a different author each year as a personal Advent study to aid in dusting away our spiritual cobwebs. This year we are revisiting the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We have been immersed in the 2010 biography of Bonhoeffer written by Eric Metaxas† and decided to complement the historical with the devotional. This season we will be using God is in the Manger‡, a compilation of excerpts from Bonhoeffer's writings on Advent. Today's excerpt includes this gem to mull over:

The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

That says it all, doesn't it? Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

What traditions do you use to celebrate Advent in your families and daily life outside of Sunday service? Which authors or books do you suggest for an Advent study? Please write to us. We'd like to know and so would your fellow readers.

See you next week—further along the Advent way.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

29 November 2015

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010).

‡2010, Westminster John Knox Press. Editor: Jana Riess, Translator: O. C. Dean, Jr.

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