Advent: The Light in the Darkness
This December, we are honored to share four guest posts surrounding the Season of Advent -- all from those we love that have created memories and traditions that we believe will uplift and encourage your heart, as you and your family also prepare for the celebration of Christmas. Today, Rev. Dr. Linda Dickerson, (who also happens to be my amazing and inspiring Aunt) provides our second installment of our Advent series. We greatly enjoyed her resources and traditions that help bring the focus back on the true heart behind our yearly celebration. What we most loved was how Linda illustrates the coming of Jesus so beautifully as our Light in dark times. We hope it brings you joy and encouragement.
How do you prepare your heart for Advent during the busyness of the holiday season?
Preparing is often hard for pastors, as our schedules of planning worship and other special events, plus all the “regular” Christmas preparations that everyone shares. I usually choose a book to read during the season— in the past I have used Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book, The First Christmas; Heidi Havercamp’s Advent in Narnia; Joyce Rupp’s Out of the Ordinary (which has prayers for every season of the year) and others (I fear I have way too many books!)
Because I sing in the choir at church, I prepare through music, as we rehearse the anthems for Advent, and the annual Christmas cantata. Listening to music and making music are important spiritual practices for me.
Do you have any favorite readings/resources that you use during Advent?
Even though I am older, I am a “techie” person, and some of the best resources are online. I especially rely on d365.org, a daily devotional jointly sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Presbyterian Mission Agency, and the Episcopal Church. During the Advent and Christmas season, the site is called Follow the Star. The music is meditative, and I often leave it playing in the background all during my day.
Just this year, I discovered a wonderful book: Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas, by Laura Alary. It is so refreshing to encounter a guide that isn’t about Santa Claus, but about Jesus. Alary writes about expectant waiting, about light and darkness, and offers a number of spiritual practices for families to use during Advent. One practice from the book that I especially like is to trace our hands on different kinds of green paper and put them in a basket. Whenever someone in the family does something kind, they take a hand out of the basket and glue it to a Styrofoam wreath. Day by day, as we help others, the wreath gets fuller.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) also publishes an Advent calendar that we use at our church each year. This year’s calendar is titled “Let Love Speak Words and Actions to Pave the Way of the Lord.”
What are some family traditions that you have (or had) to make the season special and keep the focus on the coming Christ?
Now that we are older, my husband Doug and I don’t have the joy of Advent with children around. But we do have some traditions that we continue. Each year, we put the Advent wreath on the dining room table, and each evening, we light the appropriate candle(s) and use readings from a daily lectionary. The Advent readings are rather gruesome sometimes, focusing on the end of time, but the prayers we share keep us grounded and waiting for the arrival of Love, not tribulation. We have this obscure German tradition called the Advent buzzard that we use. It is a reminder of the coming of light into the darkness—but remembering that the darkness is still with us. So we hang a black bird on the Christmas tree first thing. Then we fill the tree with light.
From my childhood, I also remember the night we spent decorating the Christmas tree. After we finished, Mom would gather us on the couch and read the Christmas story as Luke tells it in Chapter 2. That helped us to focus on Jesus rather than on Christmas gifts (as children so often do).
Each year, we choose some kind of giving that is not for personal enrichment: our local food pantry, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer Project, Bread for the World. When we help others, we are blessed.
Why is Christmas meaningful to you?
There are too many reasons for me to list about the meaning of Christmas for me, so I will only speak of two— both are mostly about light.
As John the Evangelist reminds us, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (1:5)
On Christmas Eve, at least for the last 30 years, I have had the best seat in the house. I am in front, behind the pulpit, and I have the privilege of announcing the coming of the light to the people gathered before me. As I step to the Christ candle on the Advent wreath, I light my candle, share the light with the ushers, and watch as the light travels along the rows, and gradually fills the room with light as we sing “Silent Night, Holy Night.” It gives me joy in a way I can hardly describe, to see the faces of dear friends and strangers light up as we sing. There is so much darkness in the world, and I need the reminder, that Jesus, God with us, the light of the world, has come and will come again, and that the darkness will not win. And as we prepare to leave, I remind us all that Jesus said, “YOU are the light of the world. Let your light shine.” And then I get to go to the door of the church and greet those people who are Christ’s light—and they shine for me. Thanks be to God!
This year, light is especially meaningful, as I am planning to preach from the first chapter of John.
I ran across a poem by Jan Richardson, “How the Light Comes: A Blessing for Christmas Day”—
I cannot tell you
how the light comes.
What I know
is that it is more ancient
That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.
That it loves
what is hidden
what is lost
what is forgotten
or in peril
or in pain.
That it has a fondness
for the body
for finding its way
for tracing the edges
for shining forth
through the eye,
I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not forsee.
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still
to the blessed light
About the Author: Rev. Dr. Linda Dickerson is currently the pastor at Northside Presbyterian Church in Virginia, and has served in ministry for more than twenty-five years. Linda has pastored churches across the East Coast, to include Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. Linda is married to the Rev. Doug Rathjen and between the two of them have 5 children and ten grandchildren. Meeting and knowing Linda is a treasure -- she is the pillar in my life that uplifts, encourages and empowers me as a woman to see my strength and potential. Her ministry and selfless service to others is truly a gift. We love you, Linda!