Advent is a season of waiting, preparing, expecting. It is a time to see the darkness around us and even to confront it and enter into it more deeply – with the spiritual grounding of courage and hope we so desperately need. In contrast to non-stop noise in the culture around us, this is a time for quieting, centering, making ready … to watch the mystery unfold.

Historically, the church has seen this as a penitential season, thus there are similarities with Lent. Yet it is different. In the first week, scripture texts urge to “keep awake,” on high alert to our human weaknesses and inattentiveness – yet with reminders of the gifts and possibilities, the promise of love breaking in. This is a time to remember our baptism, the sacramental bond holding us in relationship with God and one another, and these images are especially vivid in the second and third weeks. Readings on the final two Sundays brings the joy of anticipation, as we turn our attention to Mary and the birth of the Christ Child. This year, in the shortest of Advent seasons, Advent 4 dawns in a flash, with news of the coming incarnation – mystery in the womb, about to be revealed for all the world.

Advent began December 3 and our observance continues through Sunday morning, December 24. Visible signs in the church will begin simply: touches of blue, like the winter sky, and a simple wreath taking shape in our midst. Listen for the changes in the prayers we say together, the music we sing. Notice, as the season deepens, the greening of the church, a sign of the everlasting life that comes to us through Christ. As the time draws near, take part in preparing and adorning the church, as we make room in our hearts for Emmanuel, God made manifest and dwelling with us.

Upcoming special worship services:
The Longest Night 7 p.m. Thursday, December 21
Christmas Eve4 p.m. Sunday, December 24
Christmas Day10 a.m. Monday, December 25

PRAYER & STUDY
For your personal devotions, consider simple practices to deepen your connection with God this season:
• Assemble an Advent candle wreath and light it daily or weekly, using this simple form for evening prayer.
• Sign up for Advent Word, through the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastic community – offering a daily gift for reflection in your email inbox – or join the Advent Word movement on Facebook or Instagram (#AdventWord).
• Pick up an Advent wellness booklet at Grace and follow along through the season, with short readings and journal prompts.
• Select a book from a collection at the church, to deepen your prayers or study of scripture.
• Re-commit to the hours of prayer, using the Daily Office forms in the Book of Common Prayer or the devotions that begin on p. 136. Consider trying an online prayer site or audio version, or appA leaflet for Advent prayers is available at Grace.
• Give thoughtfully. Remember your neighbors and other people nearby. Consider support for local organizations, as well as Gifts for Life, through Episcopal Relief and Development, Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Episcopal Public Policy Network, and other efforts to serve others as we believe Jesus taught us.

PREPARATIONS AT GRACE
December 10 – The Advent wreath continues to form, week by week, in the center of the nave. Two candles this week and the gradual greening remind us that God’s everlasting love and light is taking shape in our midst. We will share in discussions together, in response to the Word. After worship, stay for refreshments, and a “sing and clean,” and a few simple preparations for the weeks ahead. Bring evergreen clippings, to help add to the greening.
December 17 – Stay after worship, as you are able, to set out candles and make a few additional preparations for the Longest Night service, 7 p.m. Thursday, December 21.
December 24 – After morning worship at 10 a.m., join in making ready for the Feast of the Nativity! This year’s “eve” service will begin at 4 p.m., as we begin in vigil, share in the sacrament of Holy Communion, and end by greeting the Light born into the world. All are invited to join in a procession of the icon of Mary and Jesus, carrying candlelight into our downtown neighborhood. Those who desire a late Christmas Eve service, with lots of music, are invited to join Episcopal Church of the Mediator (1620 W. Turner, by West Park), for the singing of carols at 10:40 p.m. and Holy Eucharist at 11 p.m.
December 25 – 10 a.m. Holy Eucharist at Grace

Let us make ready: to remember that we are loved beyond measure and to hold this wondrous Light for all the world to see.   T+