It’s snowing, very softly, and it’s colder than it’s been. I might break into “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” any minute now. But, we do observe Advent here, at St. Paul, and even though we had our spectacular Christmas Fair, and even though we sang many Christmas songs, we’re still waiting, preparing, making new space for the Nativity of our Lord. This year for Advent Night Church, which is a kind of amalgam of bible study and worship, I decided to focus our meditation and conversation on something I’m calling “Stations of the Manger.” It’s a series of meditations based on the framework of what we do in Holy Week with “Stations of the Cross.” The stations of the manger are adapted from scripture passages, most of them in the lectionary for the season, just as the stations of the cross are shaped by the scriptures on the last journey of Jesus. So for those of you who are following along, the first Advent station on Wednesday last week was the station concerning Jesus’ prehistory, his lineage. I used a visual meditation focus, the image of the Jesse Tree, because that shows the family tree of Jesus. The two scriptures we read and discussed were the Isaiah reading for Advent 2, Isaiah 11:1-10, which speaks of the root, or stump of Jesse, and Matthew 1: 1-17, Jesus’ forbears through Joseph.
To observe Advent takes great intention, for we live in a culture that pushes Christmas upon us as soon as Thanksgiving is over . I love what our Episcopal neighbors did by changing the name of their Christmas Fair to “Advent Fair” as a bow to staying in the season. We really did have a spectacular fair this year.—not exaggerating! The place looked wonderful, decorated beautifully, and the day was joyful, with many visitors to our church. The cookies and Nisu were gone in the first few hours. Thank you to all who made this day so lovely: especially to Suzanne Maki, and Deborah Coull as the organizers, to Mary Jane Morrill for her Nisu, the Sunday School for their cookie baking efforts, and to all who offered help and time. Thank you!
On Sunday in my sermon, in which I tried to honor Nelson Mandela as a prophet in our time, I mentioned the word African term“ubuntu.” It’s very difficult to translate—but one way of saying it is this: “I am because you are.” In Christian theology, we understand God as Triune, a God whose very being is communion, a participatory existence. Ubuntu as a spiritual value requires a commitment to participate, to be intentional about our mutual existence. This word “ubuntu” is a way of describing our interconnections, our intercommunion. Here is what Archbishop Desmund Tutu wrote about it: “Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language…It is to say. ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours’…” (from No Future Without Forgiveness: A Personal Overview of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission , Desmond Tutu, © 2000). Several of you have asked about this word since the service. I hope that helps. I also used a Greek word “metanoia” which means transformation–a changing of the mind. This Advent is a season to be open to transformation, by the renewing of our minds, the changing of minds and hearts. John the Baptist, on Sunday, called us to that renewal. May our minds and hearts be turned toward God and toward our neighbors. May we all know that we exist as a communion of persons, interconnected, a network of precious relations to each other, joined by love.