Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas: Celebrating Advent

Ever since I was a little girl, Christmastime has been tied to Advent.  Advent means "coming" and it involves traditions that point to the night we celebrate God's coming in flesh to earth.  Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas.  On each Sunday, a new candle is lit.  Each candle has a special meaning.  Then on Christmas Eve, a large white candle is lit called the "Christ Candle."  For me as a child (and an adult), Advent does two things.  First, it increases the anticipation of Christmas.  As a child, each candle lit meant Christmas was drawing closer and I grew more and more excited.  Second, it focuses me on what Christmas is about: Jesus Christ.  As a child, yes, I did get excited about presents and snow men and reindeer.  But Advent brought me back to what was truly important: the birth of my Savior.  Through Advent, I learned what Christmas was all about, who Jesus was and why he came.  As an adult, I still cherish Advent.  I think now even more so, I long for my Savior, for the celebration of his glorious coming.

I'd like to explain how you can celebrate Advent, too.  The first thing you'll need are the candles.  There are three purple taper candles, one pink taper candle and one large white candle, and, of course, holders.  (Christian bookstores like Mardel will sell boxes with the purple and pink candles in them).  Each candle has a meaning I'll list below.  Some people put the advent candles within a wreath.  I did that for our first couple years of marriage.  You can definitely set them out without a wreath.  As you see below, the tapers surround the white candle in this set up:

I put the nativity behind the candles to emphasize the meaning of Advent.  One year I put the candles in the middle of our dining table along with a couple small nativities because I was hosting my family.  We celebrated Advent together that night:

The last couple years, since I have a small child whose hands are on everything, I have put the Advent candles on our mantel.  Our stocking holders are the nativity and so I put the white candle behind the stocking holder with the baby Jesus since it represents the Christ child.

Once you have your candles set up how you like, you gather your family and light them each Sunday.  On the first Sunday, you'll light just one purple candle.  The next Sunday, two purple candles.  The following Sunday, two purple candles and the pink candle.  The last Sunday, two purple candles, the pink candle, and the last purple candle.  On Christmas Eve, you light all four tapers and the large white candle.  For us, we have a verse we recite and song we sing for each new candle that is lit.  Below I have listed the verses and songs.

First Purple Candle: Hope 
"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn."  Isaiah 60:2-3
Song: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"

Second Purple Candle: Love
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  John 3:16
Song: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus"

Pink Candle: Joy
"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder...For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  Isaiah 9:2-3, 6
Song: "Joy to the World"

Last Purple Candle: Peace
"Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."  Luke 1:78-79
Song: "Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing"

White Candle: Christ
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’”  Luke 2:25-32
Song: "What Child Is This?"

I hope that you have found this enlightening and helpful and that you, too, will be able to celebrate the tradition of Advent in your own home!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Every Thanksgiving, I read and post George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation.  Most people don't realize that the point of Thanksgiving was originally to thank God for the blessings He had bestowed on us.  Days of thanksgiving were declared all throughout our country's early history and did not become associated with the pilgrims and indians until later.  George Washington actually proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving.  Washington declared the point of that thanksgiving day to be a time for people to acknowledge "with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God."  When I celebrate Thanksgiving, I don't mind the imagery of the pilgrims and indians, but I remember that this day is set aside, not to the glory of myself, but to the glory of my God.  It is a day to thank God for the blessings He has poured into my life by enjoying family and food, a reminder that I am thankfully well fed.  I hope you'll enjoy Washington's proclamation as much as I do and it will help you focus on the true purpose of Thanksgiving.

"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Go: Washington"

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Beware Exaggerated Language

So in my English classes, I have harped on something I call "exaggerated language."  Exaggerated language is using words like "always," "never," "everyone," "no one" and so on.  When I grade papers that have these terms in them, I write beside them "prove it."  In other words, prove that no one ever likes to drink coffee.  Prove that everyone knows God is Lord.  Statements with exaggerated language are usually false.

Through the election season, I have been hearing an exaggerated statement (actually two) that I am sick of.  It's this: Conservatives don't care about the poor.  I want to say, "Prove it."  This myth that conservatives don't care about the poor (usually foisted on conservatives when they mention any kind of moral legislation because being concerned about morals automatically means you don't care about the poor) is plain wrong.  Let me give an example.

I'm going to pull from my pool of conservative friends.  Let's see.  At least five couples I personally know have adopted needy children, not to mention half my church.  All of them have gone on mission trips where they did such things as build homes, feed orphans, bring clothes and survival items to those without them.  My husband and I support two sponsor children, not to mention the large percentage of our budget that goes to charities that help the poor.  Our small group is spending its next meeting shopping and filling baskets of food for the needy.  My church partners with a charity working in downtown Dallas to help the homeless.  I could go on.  The point is, the conservatives I know help the poor.  Why?  Because God cares about the poor, so they do, too.  This idea that conservatives don't care about the poor is an outright lie.

So why are conservatives then charged with a lack of compassion for the poor?  What's really at root is not a lack or overabundance of compassion on either side.  What we have are different ideas of how to help the poor through the government.  Conservatives want to equip the poor with the ability to feed themselves and rise out of their poverty.  They want to teach a man to fish so he can fish for life.  They don't want to enable the ability to sit around and do nothing while the government fishes for me.  Others disagree.  They want to meet immediate needs, hand out everything they can so no one suffers in this country.  But understand, both sides care about the poor.  They have different ways of thinking how the government should handle the poor, but that does not mean either side isn't getting its hands dirty helping the poor.

(Here's the freebie, the second exaggerated phrase I've heard during the election: Conservatives hate women.  The catch phrase is "war on women."  Some say they demonize women.  This is so laughable, I don't want to address it with a whole post, a paragraph will suffice.  There are thousands upon thousands of conservative women, including myself.  Let me let you in on a secret: we don't hate ourselves.  Shocker!  This idea of a "war on women" pretty much surrounds one issue: abortion.  As Wikipedia defines it, "a political catchphrase used in United States politics to describe Republican Party initiatives in federal and state legislatures that are seen as restricting women's rights, especially with regard to reproductive rights."  It's any kind of legislation that is perceived to limit women's "rights."  Do you know we have tons of legislation in this country that limits rights?  We can't murder.  We can't steal.  We can't damage someone else's property and so on.  Conservatives do not view it as a right to kill a child.  That is murder.  It's not a war on women.  It's a hate of murder.  Others can argue reasons it is not murder, fine.  But don't pretend that because conservatives hold the belief that killing a child in the womb is murder that they hate women.  That'd be like saying because someone is okay with abortion, they hate children).

(This article will probably get me flamed.  So hear me.  I know there are conservatives who have said bonehead things and are the exception to the rule.  I hear what they say and I think, "That was a stupid thing to say."  There are people on the other side who have said bonehead things, too.  You can't generalize a group of people based on some bonehead sayings).