2021 Advent Devotional

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Join Andover Newton for a devotional during Advent 2021. We are sharing a few posts each week that celebrate the creativity and diversity of this beloved community.  You never know what you’ll receive from post to post. We’ll have paintings, images, and an Advent yoga meditation.

In this broken and beloved world, there is a particular beauty in this season of expectation. As we stand on the vista and look out toward Christmas morning, we’ll make intentional stops along the way. Like the wisdom gained from traditional pilgrimage, this journey will become its own destination. 

Posts will originate on Facebook (@andovernewton) and Instagram (@Andover_Newton) and will then be curated together on this page. We hope that you’ll find this creative path filled with sustenance, diverse interpretations, and loving guides.

For faculty, staff, and others who will be on campus, you will be able to see the Andover Newton Advent Calendar physically unfold on our bulletin board outside of the main office suite (N200). Stop by, meditate, and be nourished…

Reflections for Advent 2021

Video introduction to the series…

Advent Reflection for November 28, 2021 by second year student Lydia Hoffman

Advent is a walk in the woods
It is a night spent under the trees 
that give way to the star-filled sky
Trees that guide us
trees that change with the seasons of life
just as we do
Trees that weather storms 
and embrace the longest nights
We wait for their leaves to change
to fall and to transform into something completely new
As we embark on this journey beneath the trees 
and beneath the changing skies
we begin with a breath of hope
Hope represented by perhaps a spring tree
blossoming again after months of preparation
months of withholding
A blossoming tree that will stay the brightest shades of pink and purple 
only for a moment 
until it transforms into something new
until it breaks open into something new
waiting, knowing, trusting
This is hope
This is Advent  

Advent reflection for November 30, 2021 by third years students Jyrekis Collins and Mike Gordon

Advent reflection for December 2, 2021 by third year student I’noli Hall.

Reflection for the second Sunday in Advent by second year student lydia hoffman.

The greenest of trees. We find them in the season of summer. A time when life is blooming all around us. A time when we are able to stop and breathe in fresh air. Another moment of pause on this Advent Journey. The green trees, they stand strongly in the ground and call to us to rest. Their branches intertwined with others, holding strong to a forest of community, after weathering the harshest storms.
They embrace and they bear storms, they know the coldest of winters, and somehow, when the summer airs hits our faces once again the leaves have regained their color. It cannot be easy to be a tree, I think. I am inspired by their vigilance, keeping watch over all of creation, holding strong- high in the air year after year. And when they are one day cut down, when they are uprooted, still something is made of this tragedy. Shelters are crafted, boats are carved, second chances are given. This Advent, I find PEACE in the greenest of trees. PEACE in new beginnings, strong foundations, and in the communities that hold us all together. This is PEACE, this is ADVENT.

This creation for the second week of Advent by 2nd year student Lauren Dubé.
When I look at a piece of fiber art, whether it’s crocheting, knitting, embroidery or weaving, the thing that stands out to me most is not the colors, or the material, but each and every small, intricate stitch. Each project is made up of thousands of stitches, and this wreath has well over 4,000 stitches alone. When I start a project, each stitch feels massive and important. With just six stitches, I can see the project begin to take shape and grow. However, once I get a few rows into the project, each stitch feels more and more miniscule, as if it makes less of a difference. 
That is until I make a mistake. And my goodness do mistakes happen. Something as small as a skipped stitch in crocheting changes the entire shape of your project. A dropped stitch in knitting, if not caught in time can mean frogging hours and hours of work. Each stitch, whether it feels important or not, takes a great deal of intentionality, and becomes a beautiful practice of mindfulness. 
When I make a mistake with a stitch, I’m constantly faced with a dilemma. Will this actually impact the project? And the answer is always a resounding yes, and so I go back, unraveling work that may have taken hours to find that one stitch, not unlike the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep. 
Meditating this week on Peace, I’ve found myself focusing on each stitch more. And in this noticing and marking, Crocheting becomes an extended metaphor for finding the lost sheep, because each stitch, each sheep, each person is important and inherently valuable. Peace is so much more than finding stillness by practicing spiritual care. Peace is a world that recognizes the inherent value and dignity of each and every part of God’s creation, that finds the lost sheep, the dropped stitch, and deconstructs enough to bring them in. 

Advent reflection for December 10, 2021 from second year MDiv student Kevin Marsh.
Emmanuel: God with us.  The foundational phrase of the incarnation and yet still so mystical, fulfilled and still to come.  As we engage in the spiritual presence of God, our dry and weary bones ache with desire and hope.  We hold a desire for the actualized presence of God, that the justice of God’s Kingdom will be made manifest and a hope that this long-foretold promise of Christ’s second coming will finally peek its head out from behind the curtains of the stage of God’s grand theater of life.  The question of advent becomes how do we sit in the waiting well?  How do we bring forth the “Emmanuel” within the world? How do we hold the ways in which the world still holds glimpses of the incarnational divine and how do we find them?
The word “Emmanuel” has long been integrated into my life, making its way into some of my earliest memories such as: Christmas caroling with my family, countless droning sermons, and generally through osmosis as I experienced the magic of the holidays.  Emmanuel was always an assured promise that God was with me.  That promise was carried with my in the depths of my soul throughout my life.  However, as I went through the process of coming out as queer, the idea of God’s presence resting upon me as it did on those around me became something of a radical statement.  It seemed to threaten those who deemed my newly announced queerness a hindrance to my ability to find God, and slowly, my assurance that God was indeed with me was stripped from my soul.  
Finding a faith that was ripped from your grasp is never an easy journey.  However, it is one that I immediately embarked upon.  The joy of the journey to find God in the midst of the cloudy ethereal mist of one’s soul is that God will inevitably manifest.  And in my case, God’s presence found me in the most unlikely of art forms, drag, the passion of a lip sync mimicking the passion of the worship leaders who deemed me unfit to lead, the ornate pageantry reflecting the iconography of the church, and the crude jokes and messages of self-love transfixing me as they morphed into the most beautiful of homilies.  In that moment, I found it.  Emmanuel: God with me.  There is a subversive beauty of God’s presence being made manifest in the societally obscene.  Whether that is the humble beginnings of a barnyard childbirth or the grunge of a midwestern gay bar, God seems to consistently choose to be made manifest in places that can only be understood as the comedy of divine irony.  
As I left that gay bar inspired with a renewed sense of divine presence and began not only consuming but doing drag, I found that this sentiment continued to be true.  Not only was God still with me, I was still a reflection of God in this world.  Not only that, but in my queerness and in my drag, I found new ways that I reflect the imago dei (image of God).  The gender queer nature of drag resembles the gender queerness of God, in their ability to encapsulate all people of every gender within their image.  Even more so, there is something inherently incarnational about the art of drag.  Just as God the Son was made manifest from spirit to flesh, drag is an art that utilizes physical transformation.  Christ’s incarnated mission of calling together the people of God under the banner of love is also mimicked here.  By partaking in this art form, the drag artist functions as the crux of community building for a community oppressed by the broader society.  In the mystical, diverse family of Christ, I find this sentiment to be among the most beautiful.  Not that drag artists have some special access to reflect the image of the divine but that every person finds a place within the mosaic of God’s image.  In doing this work, we are able to look around and never forget the millions upon millions of instances of Emmanuel: God with us.  

advent reflection for December 12, 2021 by second year student lydia hoffman.

Advent reflection for December 14, 2021 by second year student meredith barges
A time of wonder and hope comes alive in the details of how the infant Jesus came to lay peacefully in a manger in Bethlehem.
Looking at Nativity scenes, like this one, what do you notice? Who is gathered around the Christ Child
We can easily identify Mary and Joseph and others from the nativity story: the three magi, the shepherds who were out pastoring their sheep when they told by angels of Jesus’s miraculous birth. 
What other kinds of worshippers do you see? Angels? What about animals? Sheep, a donkey, an ox?
In one of the earliest depictions of the nativity, found on this 4th century Roman Christian sarcophagus, the infant Jesus appears along with an ox and a donkey. In a 1415 Corpus Christi celebration, the Ordo Paginarum notes that Jesus was lying between an ox and a donkey. These two animals are the ones most commonly represented in nativity art.
At my Unitarian Universalist church in Burlington, VT, children are invited to bring in stuffed animals to fill out the nativity scene. So I’ve seen there with Baby Jesus bears, crocodiles, unicorns, and even once a whale!
Yet, here is a mystery. You might be surprised, like I was, to learn, in the gospels there is no mention of animals in the nativity narrative
How can that be when we know that animals certainly had a place in the first Christmas? The Holy Family stayed the night inside a barn at a crowded inn, after all. Many of those guests at the inn, on a winter night, would have had traveled with animals, like Mary and Joseph did. So, we know that there would have been animals nearby – at the very least, the donkey that Mary rode from Nazareth, and sheep under the care of the shepherds who came straight from the fields, and possibly camels ridden by the wise men on their journey to Bethlehem.
What the animals did for shelter that memorable night, the Gospel story does not say. But over the centuries, Christian artists have helped to fill in the picture for us. On their canvasses, the blue-veiled Mother sits or bows radiantly near Jesus. AND more often than not, the animals are right there, front and center—often in a central place in the composition. They look on at the Christ Child, hovering directly over Him, directly over the manger.
Remember, the animals were the first ones to share at Christmas, making space in their stable for the Christ child and His parents. Remember, Mary and Joseph, when they could find no place to stay, found refuge and acceptance among the animals.
As described in the Gospel of Luke (2:12), “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
So, we know, the newborn Jesus was laid in a manger. This detail would have surprised Jesus’ first followers, and it should stand out to us as peculiar too. “Why is baby Jesus in a manger?” 
A manger, of course, is an open box or trough used to hold food for animals. Typically made of wood or stone, it is located on the ground or slightly above the ground, at a height for animals to feed. 
In nativity scenes, we can imagine the manger’s curved edges, which typically held hay or grain for cattle, horses, donkeys and other animals, has become the perfect crib, the perfect bed, for the Christ child, its curved edges hugging in around Him as He sleeps. 
On the first night we find Jesus sleeping in the manger, exactly in the place where animals feed; his body literally in a place for food, where hay and grains are eaten. 
The word manger comes to us from the Old French mangier, to eat or chew, that earthiest of animal actions—and for Christians, one of the most sacred.
Christians have long reflected on the profoundly symbolic act of placing Jesus in a manger, finding a connection to the Holy Eucharist, where Jesus himself becomes food for humanity.
St. Cyril of Alexandria in the 5th century explains, “The setting of Christ’s birth points us to the Eucharist. Since through sin man becomes like the beasts, Christ lies in the trough where animals feed, offering them, not hay, but his own body as life-giving bread.”
So, why are the animals in the nativity scene hovering so close? What are they doing, their heads hung right over the top of the manger? Are they looking for their hay? Are they adoring Jesus? Are they wondering how this human child ended up sleeping on their dinner plate?  
In this vast cast of characters, who are we, the faithful, invited to identify with the most?
Equal to the magic of three wise men worshipping and offering sumptuous gifts of gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh to a foreign child born in a stable, the presence of the humble animals in nativity scenes invites us into a time of wonder and contemplation. 
What of the innocence and humility of the animals that shared their shelter and manger with the Christ child that night? And what of the expansiveness of the divine vision (the theophany) so bright as to reach all creaturely hearts – sheep and donkey, oxen and camel, elephant and human? What vision of peace there?

Advent Reflection for December 17 comes from 2nd year student Benjamin Geeding.
Waiting can be terrible. Uncertainty, unsure, unmoored. Holding out for something which may or may not be good.  
Waiting can be terrible. It can cause a kind of pit in the stomach, an awareness that there are things out of one’s control. Waiting communicated that there lies something both out of reach, for it has not yet come, and inevitably will arrive, or else why wait at all. Waiting can make one feel stuck, for what waiting promises will only come when it is ready to do so.
Waiting can be terrible. It’s almost like anxiety. Uncertainty, unsure, unmoored. Wrapped in something not asked for but yet appears.
Waiting can be terrible. Will I be caught unaware? What if I’m not enough? What if for what I’m waiting does not welcome me?
Waiting can be terrible. Uncertainty, unsure, unmoored. 
in Advent I am reminded that waiting is redeemed. For what is coming shall redeem all, including the terribleness of waiting.  
So come, long awaited one, and do what you will. 
Redeem our waiting. Repair the wrong. Make it right.

advent reflection for december 19 comes from 2nd year student lydia hoffman.
It has been a long time coming, love that is.
This season, filled with the hustle and bustle of Christmas carols, silent nights, late-night last-minute shopping trips, worship planning.
It has been a long time coming.
Love: perhaps something we take for granted
Feels like a present we will unwrap from beneath the tree. Love feels like a neatly tied up bow, this time of year, that we must wait for, that we cannot yet give, or else what will be left? 
If we give away all of our love before Christmas morning, what will be under the tree?
Winter comes before we are ready. It is a long time coming, a weighing down of snow, a glistening of icy streets. Winter feels like something we must wait and wait and wait for. Like something we anticipate, and never are truly, really ready for its arrival. But what if, we had been preparing all this time? With the leaves that change, the branches that stand firm, it has been a long time coming, winter that is.
The love of Christ has been here for us through each changing leaves season. It has been here for us before we wrapped it up in bows and gave it a name. This love comes each year whether we are ready or not. The love of community, of one another. Love has been here all along, and we need not wrap it up. We need not wait.
Now is the time to embrace the cozy winter season. This is love. This is advent. 

Advent reflection for Solstice (December 21) comes from 2nd Year Student Tasha Brownfield.

Advent reflection for december 22 is a wonderful review of our advent series thus far by its coordinator and curator, 2nd year MDiv student Christine Geeding.
You’ve heard from many Andover Newton students over the past four weeks, which may feel disjointed, even broken apart from one another. 
It is a tender time. We are both emerging and retreating, gathering and scattering, feeling the joy of belonging and the pangs of loneliness. 
If you look closely at the myriad of artistic reflections, you’ll see a larger whole - something made complete in community. 
Together we’ve stood in the candlelight of hope, peace, love and joy and used them to illuminate our path of emergence, gathering, and belonging. and we pray that these reflections have and will continue to light the way to the ultimate illumination of the Christ candle…
As we near its lighting I encourage you to go back and look at our journey through advent. Take note of the moments that have helped you to express your own journey. 
Blessings to you and yours. 

Advent reflection for Dec. 25th - the Christ candle - comes from Ned Allyn Parker (MDiv ‘10).
“Something was askew” - A Christ Candle reflection
Something was askew in the scattered skyscape.
The perennial peppering of celestial particulate parted to provide path for a temporary portend of prophetic potential.
The star strove stealthily, striking its own study, startling stupefied stewards – 
shepherds who should know the shape, the shine, the shifting un-shadows of the night,
even as they shivered under a now shattered cosmos… Surely, this was a shining shibboleth. 
Somehow, we capitulate to capture with candlelight the sacred compass of one that quietly catapulted a Christ into the carnival - the chaos of creation.
A luminous night with a numinous light… not meant to be particularly peripheral, nor pandering politely to political powers pressing peoples down with the painful pestilence of nefarious and narcissistic nobility. Instead, a silently simple singularity soared while the savior son in swaddling clothes sweetly suckled in the sonorous serenity of stable instability.
In a meager manger mucked by a mischievous innkeeper – a manager who muttered maleficently: “There is no room for you here.” “There is no room for you. Your kind. Your people. You people.” “There is no room for you here.” 
A message immortalized now magnified, multiplied – a maneuver of malignant manipulation marred more menacingly, mournfully, by a humankind now joined jubilantly by a Jesus soon jeered and then jettisoned back to “where he came from.” “Where he came from…” whether the “where” was once wondrous or wretched – “wherever” an ignoble ignorance of the infant’s infinite inability to ignore the Word, because he was the Word – wisdom written woefully with his willful witness, while righting wrongs of wickedness; writing wrongs wistfully in the sand where wicked wonton witnesses wavered in their righteousness.
Beginning at the beginning but also beginning with a begotten Bedouin bride bawling between beasts and bales in the darkness where doom did not deign to deprecate an already dire dilemma, but instead deified the darkness. With a humble hush, now at home in the hay, unhampered by hewn stone, his humanness heated the hollow that would foresee that foretaste of future fate – frightening, forsaken, fetid –in cracked cavity with white coverings crumpled complete in their communion with cherubim who cradled the cavern, caring for a Christ crucified, creating confusion and confession and calamity and calm.
The sentinel a trembling Trinity – transcendent despite trivial tread worn trial of truncated trickery, where tremulous traitors traded truth for trite treachery. Power to the privileged who can purge the plague of their participation peaceably by pronouncing: “I wash my hands of this” – a slippery sanitizer said sulkily while evoking an error of evasion. 
Victory validated the vicar who viewed the vicious vision from the peak of the very valley where two thieves were thrown thither, thoughtlessly fastened through and through, while the thorns threw thickly the fruit of the vine – droplets dancing in disturbed dry dirt, where verily vinegar would vivify the vermiculite into a mirror of monsters, mirages, miracles, mothers, Mary’s.
Something was askew in the scattered skyscape.
Star dust. 
From dust to dust.
We watch a wick withering in white wax as we wonder and wander toward the twisted twinkling twilight of Christendom.
Light lives because something burns.
The revelation, revision, reincarnation, revitalization, revival of resurrection have only one revolting yet revealing requirement; death. Death also divulges its own demands before it is dealt…
Something was askew in the scattered skyscape.