Sunday, December 18, 2005

Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Fourth Sunday of Advent began with the lighting of the Candle of Hope:
"'This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
See, I will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift up my banner to the peoples;
They will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders.
Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground; they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.' (Isaiah 49:22-23)

"Today we light the fourth candle of the Advent Wreath. It is the candle of hope. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah was giving hope to God’s people who had been defeated by their enemies and taken off to a foreign land – away from their center of worship, separated from the house of God; living among the customs and traditions of foreign people. Is it any wonder they needed the hope of God’s presence, and the hope of a future restored to them through a powerful military leader – the Messiah for whom they longed? The prophet could tell of enemies becoming the servants of God’s people.

"What a topsy-turvy fulfillment of prophecy with the birth of the baby Jesus who would grow into the likeness of God and lead His followers into the Kingdom of God. Instead of being served, we are called to serve. Instead of having our enemies under our feet, we work toward justice and equality. And as we live this life, united by our faith in Jesus the Christ, we hope for what is yet to be ours.

"'Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you ….'(1 Peter 1:3-4)"

The main part of the rest of the service was taken up with the Children's Lovefeast. The lovefeast is a Moravian tradition based on the agape meals practiced in the early days of Christianity, in which people would partake of simple meals together in the context of their common Christian community. The practice did not outlast the Roman Empire, but was revived in the early 18th century by the Moravian community in Herrnhut. Take it away, Moravian FAQ:
"The lovefeast of Apostolic times was resuscitated in its original simplicity by the Moravian Church in 1727. After the memorable celebration of the holy communion on August 13, seven groups of the participants continued to talk over the great spiritual blessing which they had experienced and were reluctant to separate and return to their own homes for the noonday meal. Count Zinzendorf, sensing the situation, sent them food from his manor house, and each group partook together, continuing in prayer, religious conversation, and the singing of hymns. This incident reminded Zinzendorf of the primitive agape, and the idea was fostered until lovefeasts became a custom in Moravian life. They were introduced wherever new settlements were founded and so came to America.

"The lovefeast is primarily a song service, opened with prayer. Often there is no address; the hymns in the ode, or order of service, furnish the subject matter for devotional thoughts. If many visitors are present, the presiding minister often says a few words, explaining the purpose of the service, just before the congregation partakes of the bun and coffee, or whatever is served. On special occasions an address may be added, giving opportunity to remind the congregation of the history of the anniversary or the deeper import of the day.

"There is no rule as to the food to be offered, except that it be very simple and easily distributed. The drink may be coffee, tea, or lemonade, fully prepared in advance, so that it may be served very quietly and without interruption of the singing. Usually mugs are used, which may be passed from hand to hand along a pew from a tray brought along the aisle. A slightly sweetened bun, which can be served in baskets passed along the pews, is a convenient form of bread. Usually men handle the trays of mugs, and women the baskets of buns. While the congregation partakes, the choir sings an anthem. Later the mugs are quietly gathered and removed. The food served is not consecrated, as in the communion. Children and members of any denomination may partake."

In this case, the lovefeast was distributed and blessed by the children, who while the congregation was partaking read the Scripture and brief Advent-themed devotional passages, and played or sang Christmas hymns. Its place in the season was similar to that of the more common children's Christmas pageant. (I think this church did one of those last year, but our current pastor is trying to put the church more in touch with its Moravian roots.)


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