Pilgrim’s Advent. – [ A SINGLE OCCASION INTERACTIVE ADVENT SERVICE ]

 

About 5 years ago, my husband Claude and I escaped to friends’ river house for a rare birthday weekend respite, after the start of the new school year, but before the holiday season. However, soon after we arrived he received a call from work to return the next morning for an emergency meeting with a general or some such VIP. Consequently I found myself all alone in a quiet beautiful place, with pen, journal and a copy of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, which I was taking my son’s homeschool Literature class through; it was the perfect (creative) storm. I later added the presentation elements ( wreath, candles and songs) in order to adapt it for presentation to the ladies’ ministry for our church: the only place it was ever delivered. Feel free to enjoy, with proper attribution to Denise Stair Armstrong, please. Grace to every Pilgrim on the Journey this Advent. 
(An Advent wreath is prominently displayed and four  pre-selected  persons prepared to light each candle and lead the singing of each portion of music. Sheets or overhead projection of the songs/hymn portions should be available to the attendees)
Narrator reads;
Christian, the Pilgrim, one night on his way,
Again lost the Path to that City of Day.
So great was the darkness, so black was the land, 
He fumbled and stumbled for places to stand.
Shades of death overtook him; he cowered and creeped.
Then slid, falling down, struck his head, fell in sleep.
He heard ancient prophet foretelling the time,
When Messiah would come through a virgin sublime.
“The people that walked in great darkness” he said,
“Have seen a great Light in the land  of the dead.
His name is called Wonderful, Counsellor Great,
Father Eternal, Peace Prince we await.”
(Light the First Advent Candle – representative of ‘the Light of the Hope of the Prophets’)

Song : “Oh come, O come Immanuel…”
Arousing himself our dazed Pilgrim espied,
“First Light! Yes I see! Though I thought I, had died!
I know it is leading me back to the path,
Out of this darkness, this dread land of wrath.”
But alas! Our dear Christian was soon lost again,
This time drawn by lights seen through earth-tainted lens.
“Bright lights, there! I see them! A-sparkling on trees!
Red ones, and green ones! Declare ‘X-mas’ glee?
This place  I have come to in search of the light
Is called…’X-MAS CITY?’ – the ‘X’ is my plight.
Its lights call out to me to stop and to stare.
To quench self’s lusts, pleasures with all fleshly fare.”
“Eat drink and be merry! From nothing refrain!”
I heard its shrill call luring men to the vain.
‘Twas Vanity Fair bidding, “Indulge your flesh!”
Its center had Herod’s agenda enmeshed.
“The light is your own!” I, confused, heard him say.
“Remove Christ from Christ-mas. Mark ‘X’, It’s your day!
Let’s search, find your own divine spark; it is true.
And then help you worship the Christ that is you!”
Before I could gather my wits ‘round about me 
The ‘X’ passions clashed; ‘twas a self-striving spree!
Breaking stores’ doors down and trampling on workers!
Racking up debt – tribute for X-mas  altars.
I fled from that town with the twinkling lights:
Visions of death! Not the Glory of Christ!
Stumbling, de-lighted his hands on his head
Eyes downcast, dejected the young pilgrim pled,
“O Lord, I don’t see You; the path I can’t find;
What darkens my vision? What’s keeping me blind?
Then that’s when I noticed, beyond X-mas walls,
The suffering, forgotten, the weak and the small.
Like sheep lost and scattered their shepherds were few.
I stepped back o’erwhelmed; did not know what to do.
Then a bright stranger shining laid hand on my shoulder.
He put me to sit ‘mongst the sheep on a boulder.”
Song –
“Open the eyes of my heart Lord
  Open the eyes of my heart,
 I want to see You…”
“The Light that you seek is quite near where we stand.
Remember the words of the Scroll in your hand:
The Virgin-born child, God incarnate appointed, 
Laid in a creche by the Spirit anointed
To bring the Good News to lost sheep such as these,
To bind up torn hearts, give the bound liberty.
Avoid the vain gifts to consume on man’s lust
Guide men to the Savior, lift hearts from sin’s dust!”
  
(Light second Advent candle – representative of ‘The Light and warmth found by Mary & Joseph in a ‘stable’)
Then out from the clouds burst a light shining glorious!
Of angels proclaiming Messiah victorious!
I saw where He made His incarnate abiding –
Midst prisoners and orphans, despairing and dying!
Shepherds and carpenter, young maiden lowly
Knelt in a grotto that God had made Holy.
Light of His birthplace bathed all in his Glory.
I basked in His love; pledged to reflect His story.
The Light and the warmth we had found in that place
Was the Light of the Glory of God in Christ’s face!”
(Light third Advent candle – representative of ‘The light and joy which surrounded the shepherds & also sent them forth’)
Song – “O come all Ye faithful…”
I knew I should go with the shepherds to tell
The dark world, X-mas world, of Immanuel.
But first, Lord, before I continue my mission
I must offer to You, Blest Pearl of my vision,
My heart’s dearest treasure, its every aspiring,
Ignite in their place Your bright flame’s Holy firing.
The work of my hands, deeds that shape all my days-
The feeding of sheep, finding lambs gone astray,
Also can capture my heart it is true
Replacing this glorious vision of You.
Daily attract me to bask in Your light,
As I sojourn in ‘Babylon’, capture my sight.
Though I face lions, furnace or pow’r crazed rulers,
To You, keep me faithful, blest Sovereign & Savior.”
  Song – “We three Kings of orient are…” )
I step here aside, for new guests now I see, 
Star-guided, have also brought gifts – 1, 2, 3.
Kings bring gold for Kingship, incense for Your praise,
 Myrrh’s bitter taste for the day You are raised
Up high between earth and the dark sky where rays 
Now beam down from Your Light, O Ancient of Days.
Shine on!  Light Our paths! One source of Holy fire,
You’ve ravished our hearts, You, our one Great Desire!”
(Light fourth Advent candle – representing the Light of God’s Truth which guides Wisemen to Jesus and also keeps them on the path)
Song – “Shine Jesus, Shine…!”
Quiet, meditative closing and exit.

Moonsong – (My 40-day Advent Journey – 1)

     Did you catch it? The Supermoon of 2016. The moon will never be closer to earth, they say, for another 18 years. The cloudy sky over Virginia that morning totally blocked the view, but thanks to modern technology, I was able to view this astronomical wonder by TV, though also a bit distracted by the ordinariness of the setting. I was in the podiatrist’s office with my mother waiting with a dozen or so disinterested patients eager to remove their shoes, but not because they perceived this was holy ground. 

     The massive orb hung, a surreal pinkish-grey, against the diminutive skyline of some more fortunate American city, on the morning of November 14, unsettling in its size.

     Like a banner at the closing of our ordinary days, it seemed to announce that the coming of the King is near. We were a week past the most contentiously fought general election of our nation’s history, and a week before  the Sunday on the Church’s liturgical calendar designated, the Feast of Christ The King.

     My leading to observe a 40-day Advent could not have been more appropriately placed. I needed to be caught up again in His-Story. The world was way too much with me. As all over college campuses and the dis-appointed media fear was ‘mongered’, others, who looked to man for deliverance, rejoiced, giddy with baseless glee. Basking in the residual moonlight as my first contemplative act of the 40 days, I pressed my soul to consider the real King.
     The nearness of a ruling monarch is often cast as a prospect to be feared. Heads could roll ( think Esther), irrevocable words could be uttered to your detriment (think Daniel), for choosing to appeal in person to Caesar (think Paul). History books record tales of streets being cleared of all the sick, lame and poor in preparation for the visit of French and Russian monarchs – nothing to disturb the monarch’s fragile sensibilities or present less than a picture of prosperity and successful reign.
     I recall, from the days of my own childhood,  the visit of a representative of the British Crown to my own island home of Jamaica. Oh the fixing of roads! the whitewashing of sidewalks and tree trunks! the relocating of sidewalk vendors and ‘sprucing ups’ of the things of our ordinary, everyday lives, to make them appear pleasing, presentable to the Crown.
     How different is the coming of The King of Kings whose nearness is our good. Kimberlee Conway Ireton, in her wonderful book on devotionally observing the Church’s liturgical year, The Circle of Seasons, describes the final Sunday before Advent, the Feast of Christ the King, as…
“…a time to celebrate the day when Christ’s great love will be fully realized on earth, the day when our King will return. He will right all wrongs. He will judge the living and the dead. He will bind up the brokenhearted…give sight to the blind…heal the lame…set the prisoners free…establish justice once and for all, justice tempered with mercy so that all life might flourish under His reign.”
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
     As I peered up from my bedroom window, 4:00 am the following morning, at the diminished but no less beautiful supermoon, another thought that gained entry was a hymn frequently sung in the church of my childhood, “I am Thine, O Lord’, which refrains, ‘Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer, blessed Lord…’. 
     Written by Fanny Crosby & William Doane (1820-1915/1832-1915), after the two had spent the evening observing a glorious sunset and discussing the nearness of God in their lives, (keeping in mind Crosby’s complete blindness!!), I was intrigued by her words in the stanza which reads, 
“There are depths of love that I cannot know
Till I cross that narrow sea
There are heights of joy that I may not reach 
Till I rest in peace with Thee”
    Yet there is so much of His love and joy that is already accessible, in both Creation’s testimony and its groans of longing for the revelation of the sons and daughters of God – (Romans 1:20/8:19). By these – glorious sunsets or full moons, from the days of our first separation in Eden, and now, through His Son, Jesus – God invites, 
“Draw near to (Him) and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8a)
     The tune of supermoon’s song, against the din of mankind’s strivings, soothed my soul. Other than testifying that Earth is still “cramm’d with heaven”, its quiet yet awe-inspiring rising, terrible in its beauty and nearness, invoked the King’s own promise:
     “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32, NKJV). 
     Hear the tune; hear the words and even if you don’t whitewash your tree trunks this Advent, at least take off your shoes and let’s, 
     “… draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)
This King’s nearness is our good.