Don’t Miss This

Our Advent wreath this year reflects our circumstance and time. 2020 will long be remembered as a year of limited going and doing, as well as simplifying. In our kitchen we use what we have instead of making a trip to the store for ingredients missing in a recipe. Having groceries delivered to home or curbside means planning ahead and accepting what comes in the order as substitutions for items not available. Sometimes it means not getting everything on the list. When I looked through the candles we had stored, traditional colors of Advent candles left from last year looked short and fully dripped. So we used what we have, different colors. We keep the meaning of each candle as we light it with brief reflections. Our grandchildren sense the wonder and mystery in the flames and only a word or two. Tonight we light the 4th candle. The candle of love, reflected in the eyes of a child. We seek the whole mystery. We receive all we are given and wait. We find a gift here, in upturned faces. Look! Don’t miss this!

How often do we miss the fainter note
Or fail to see the more exquisite hue,
Blind to the tiny streamlet at our feet,
Eyes fixed upon some other, further view.
What chimes of harmonies escape our ears,
How many rainbows must elude our sight,
We see a field but do not see the grass,
Each blade a miracle of shade and light.
How then to keep the greater end in eye
And watch the sunlight on the distant peak,
And yet not tread on any leaf of love,
Nor miss a word the eager children speak?
Ah, what demand upon the narrow heart,
To seek the whole, yet not ignore the part.

Phillip Britt, from Water at the Roots, 1947

Advent 2020

This is now the second Sunday in Advent, 2020. Yesterday Nora asked why the Advent calendar and Advent Season with four candles to light are not the same. A thoughtful question for a 6 year old. It always helps to think about where we are with calendars and seasons. This year is very different. Many phrases used during this season contain the words “together. gathering.” This year, the Covid 19 pandemic has shifted many all over the world to a different consideration of the words. But the season and its meaning stays. The story is both old and new. We wait this year in different circumstances, but the reason changes only in its greater need. For Joe and me, our greater age and lesser health means I took this photo in the foyer of our church 2 years ago. I have not been present there at a worship service in over 9 months. I miss this sanctuary. I miss our friends. Worship on Sundays has meant online viewing. But there is no lack of evidence of God’s presence and sufficiency for and with us. Living with Ben and Kristen and Nora and Oliver means we also always have family around us. The rest of our family keeps close, helps us, and encourages. We are loved.


THE HOUSE LIGHTS GO OFF and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised the baton. 

In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. 

You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. 

The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment. 

The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor. 

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.  

-Originally published in Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner