Last month I spent a good two hours organizing myself for this season at church. I marked my calendar, took notes, considered the arc of worship this month, noted questions for our worship planning team and committee. I made a list of things needed for rituals: Christmas Eve candles and their holders, blue Christmas ribbons for next week, poems for the upcoming vespers service…and Advent Candles for our advent wreath. Oh the joy–Opening to Joy is our theme this month by the way–oh the JOY, for me, that was blissfully planning ahead, laying it out with precision! One of my mentors used to say, The Devil and the Delight are in the details! And I always understood this to mean that there is a devilish-ness about planning and organizing and laying it all out, moving it around–not unlike a 10,000 piece puzzle or quilt, right? But oh the delight that is reaped as a result! The delight for me is feeling prepared. And knowing where I’m going.
So right at the top of my Christmas planning list–was “Order Advent Candles.” And I did. And I scoured the internet to find US made 75% beeswax ones, because we are committed this year to light non-toxic, environmentally friendly candles in this sanctuary. And I am committed to trying to buy local and support small businesses. And there was plenty of time for this three weeks ago! And I found a great place to buy them from, with the promise that they would be here on November 22nd. Plenty of time to spare between then and the 28th–last Sunday which was the First Day of Advent.
When I clicked on SUBMIT ORDER and put a checkmark in my little box next to “Order Advent Candles” it felt great. Don’t you love crossing things off lists? Sometimes I put things on my lists that I’ve already completed just to get that good feeling–swoop. YES.
Now, as many of you know, I don’t check my email on Mondays. So I didn’t see until Tuesday morning, the 23rd, that an email had arrived saying that my package, our blessed candles, no longer had a delivery date but was rather “being held for processing.” And sure enough when I clicked on the tracking number not only did it say “held for processing” but also contained the ominous words: “Future delivery date unknown.” Those are hard words to hear for a planner.
This launched me into the wild goose chase that were the days leading up to the 28th, where a flurry of phone calls were exchanged, promises made and broken by our friends at UPS, failed attempts to deliver it to the church–one driver refused to leave the box at the front church door because they deemed it “dangerous.” My breaking point came on Saturday–the day before worship–where I was told that they wouldn’t be here until Monday. I literally flopped dramatically onto the couch and yelled out NO!!! This poor dispatch person on the receiving end had no idea what to say or do to calm me down. All this taking place of course during the holiday weekend following Thanksgiving, where I had just preached to you the Sunday before about That Which is Essential to be grateful for, like air and food and health, and our loved ones–your minister was now flailing her arms around pleading and blaming and making demands over Advent Candles not being ready for worship service.
This whole fiasco ends with a finale that won’t disappoint. When I finally got those candles–which did indeed arrive on Monday, a day after Sunday’s service–they were the wrong candles.
The irony of course lies in all of this transpiring amid the backdrop that is Advent.
Now Advent is understood to be many things–called by many names across many faith traditions–it’s rich in symbolism–but one of its key and Universal tenants is that it is a Season of Wait. An invitation to quiet oneself to wait in the unknown. That’s its general prescription. We wait. Patiently. Time to put things down, let them go, give up all our tendencies to control and wield and persist, so as to prepare for the new. The unexpected. In the Christian tradition, which we have our Unitarian Universalist roots in, we wait for the birth of Jesus–a symbol of love and hope and change and justice, set against a historic backdrop of despair and hopelessness. Enough. Time to put it all down. Put an end to it. Time to Wait. Something new is readying itself to be born, this tradition teaches us.
For me, lighting Advent candles that we imbue with meaning: hope, peace, joy, love during the beauty that is this blanket of night–“I believe in the night” Rilke writes–where the stars and the blessed moon can be taken in for more hours than any other time of the year–the lighting of those candles remind me to slow down and see what comes out of not knowing where I’m going.
And Last Saturday afternoon, the day before our first Advent candle lighting service, after my phone call and temper tantrum, I spent some time in this sanctuary alone. And I thought about being flopped on my couch pleading into the phone, fighting with loud NOOOO’s. Such persistence. Such impatience. And I thought about what was really going on in this–wanting to get everything right. Just so. And how hard it is to give it up and go with it. Right?
The time of Advent teaches us about something new wanting to happen and it most often is not on our lists. And this is good.
The whole candle fiasco was just what I needed to prepare for the days ahead. I am inviting you into it, because maybe it’s what you need too. Because I don’t want to spend this time and I don’t want to close out this difficult year fixated on lists and to-do’s and errands. Do you? I don’t want to miss the NEW wanting to happen in my life, in this church and in this world because I was grinding away at getting things just so. It’s a small thing, these mishaps happen all the time, but there are messages in them. I have to believe that there are. And I am grateful to have received this message. To put it all down and let go here. I’m not sure what is going to happen, I did not receive an epiphany or vision sitting in this sanctuary last Saturday, but I am committed to moving through this time with some curiosity and flexibility in mind. And I am committed to enjoying some good hearty laughter, some raucous joy, at the foibles of life’s detours. Delivery dates unknown.
You know Advent candles are meant to be purple and pink. And I could have kept on with making sure the right ones were here today. Forget it. Honestly, how they got there is more apt for this season than anything else, let them be reminders to wait, and laugh, and go with it.
Our poet today, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote the reading–Night, after a time spent in Russia. A place where something came alive in him. He wrote to a close friend that he felt that he had been waiting for something, and that Russian life and its expression of religion and faith gave him, what he called, the names for waiting. And the poems, like Night, in his beautiful Book of Hours, they are waiting poems. Most are set in the beauty of night–where the hard to see, the often invisible becomes visible, emerges. Is felt. But to know it, we must practice sitting in the dark for a time. That’s what this book of poetry calls us to.
Before we listen to Rilke’s words again, I want you to know that you do not need to do everything at once. I want you to know that there are quiet, waiting places underneath the night sky for you to let it all be under and in. Our new monthly vespers service, which is next Tuesday, might be just the place to begin welcoming some of this in. You might want to consider or re-consider your relationship to waiting, or lists, or dashed plans. Or, like many of our Christian siblings, ask yourself what you might need to put down from this past year, or in your day, to prepare for a new beginning. A bit of hope. No matter how you find your way to meaning this season, my only prayer and hope for you is that you keep at the meaning-making part. That’s what this time of ritual and hymn singing and religious symbolism and myth and story–that’s what it’s here for. So that you might glean meaning from it. That’s all.
So now, let’s listen to Rilke’s prayerful waiting words again:
You, darkness, of whom I am born–
I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illuminates
and excludes all the rest.
But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations–just as they are.
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night.
May the night–its great presence stirring beside you–be a source of unexpected joy this week. And may you know that you are not alone in it. Amen.
And now won’t you take in the blessing that is music. People look East…Stars keep the watch when night is dim. People Look East. Hymn #226