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The magic of Advent

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell

December 11, 2018

Signs and wonders. Prophets and prophecy. The lighting of candles each Sunday and waiting for Christmas and the Christ-child. This is my favorite season of the year, and it’s magical. Not in the Santa Claus and flying reindeer kind of magic (although I love watching Rudolph year after year during this time), but the sense of going back to an ancient time, a time before Christ. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year in the church, and we (in the northern hemisphere) begin in darkness, just like Genesis 1:2.

Advent is where we show our roots, where we go back to the beginning.

We look to the Hebrew prophets, speaking hope to a people who had gone into exile and had everything taken from them. We read these words of assurance to find hope for us. In a time when people are displaced by hurricanes and fires, waiting to return home without a move-back date can feel like exile. Some are unable to return at all and must find a new home. Others have had to leave their homes because of violence, seeking asylum and refuge. Through the ancient prophets, we learn of promises kept and promises still hoped for—of a new shepherd, a new king. A time when there will be peace. A time when the exiles find home.

Signs and wonders. Prophets and prophecy. The lighting of candles each Sunday and waiting for Christmas and the Christ-child. This is my favorite season of the year, and it’s magical

We light candles each Sunday of Advent, a long-held tradition in the church, perhaps carried over from pagan traditions of lighting candles before the Winter Solstice in northern Europe. We are reminding ourselves that light is returning to our world, but we also show that the darkness is good, too. The darkness is when we dream, and angels come proclaiming good news. The darkness is when magic happens, when ordinary people working the night shift in the fields behold a vision of angels, and unexpected babies are born.

We remember John the Baptist during Advent, who came before Jesus, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. In some traditions during Advent, similar to during Lent preparing for Easter, people fast and pray. These ancient practices are symbols of repentance and turning back to God. For a people living under the oppressive rule of Rome, they needed good news proclaimed and the hope of a new king, but they needed to experience this renewal themselves: good news in their daily life. Some began to gather at the river, where this scrappy John came wearing camel’s hair and baptizing those who came to him. Calling upon the people to repent, to turn back to God. Calling people away from their homes and temples to something old, and something new.

Advent is going back to the beginnings, but also a tearing of the barrier between past, present, and future. The exiles of the past are on our streets today. The prophets are speaking out from the marginalized and oppressed among us. By going back to what is old, we recognize we have been watching and waiting for something new, and it is almost here. We light candles to wait in the darkness, knowing that there are good things that happen in the middle of the night.

The magic of Advent is all around. Lighting candles and saying prayers of hope that things will be different. Waiting for angels in our dreams and watching stars in the night sky. Telling the stories of old and singing the songs we were taught as children. A magic that reminds us we are not far from our ancestors, that there are exiles among us, prophets still speaking to us, and rabble-rousers calling us out of our comfort zones, to remember that our God is doing something new once again.

The Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is pastor of Queen Anne Baptist Church, Seattle, Wash., and ministry associate of social media for the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches USA.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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