Light in the Darkness | Weeks 16 and 17
By: Jesse Porch
By: Jesse Porch
Advent is a special time for the Church, connecting us in a unique way to the ongoing thread of God’s redemptive work throughout the whole of time. This week began with the candle of Hope already burning brightly, a testament to Israel’s hope for the coming Messiah and our own hope for His glorious return. It is the light of this Hope that illuminates all of the Gospel’s promises, and as such it is important that we look first to this candle as we move forward with Advent.
It was my distinct privilege to lead the Fellows through the second week of Advent by lighting the candle of Love, which reminds us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. Just as the Hope of Christ’s return illuminates the way we think about our faith, the Love that Christ first showed to us ought to shape the way we live out all aspects of our lives. To celebrate this, we spent the week of Matins and Evensong services focused on prayer, asking that this Love would be made real to each of us, first in our own relationships with Christ, then in our relationships amongst the Church, and finally in our relationships with all our neighbors so that the Love of God might be a light that draws them into communion with Him.
Class for the week reinforced this theme, with Bill Edgar and his wife Barbara visiting to share in our community and provide an overview of major era in Western culture. We began by studying the Renaissance, looking at Machiavelli’s well-known work on politics and governance, The Prince. Contrary to a Christian view of love and community, The Prince argues effective leaders must value their own power and position over concerns such as honor and selflessness. To illustrate this contrast, our next session focused on the Reformation, particularly Martin Luther’sThe Freedom of a Christian, which illustrates the importance of viewing rituals and rules in light of how they build on our ability to fulfill the purpose of the law, namely to love as God has loved us. A third session with Bill covered Voltaire’s Candide, using that as an introduction to the Enlightenment philosophies and their praise of Reason in place of the love of God as foundational for society, which ultimately led to the Reign of Terror and years of bloody revolution rather than the era of peace and prosperity its proponents predicted.
Dan Claire closed out the week’s classes with a meditation on vocation and calling, offering practical insights for how we as a church community ought to pursue calling united in love of God to a mission of making Him known. And it would certainly be a disservice to ignore the wonderful blessing of the annual TFA Christmas party, hosted at the Canadas’ house, where the Fellows and staff could join friends and family for a night celebrating the Love and Hope of the season with food, drink, and song.
This past week continued Advent with the lighting of the third candle, this one symbolizing Joy. The focus of Joy that stems from the Love of Christ in us and our Hope in His eventual return provided a foundation to frame the last week of our semester, with the Joy of seeing God’s work in us providing the support and encouragement we all need as we prepare to go our separate ways for Christmas break. To keep the week firmly focused on Christ, Brian quoted Hebrews 12:2 to call us into prayer each day, reminding us that Christ is the “author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” Our model for life is one that found joy in all things through His perfect service of God, not His dependence on earthly circumstances and worries.
Bill Edgar returned last week for another round of classes, with Monday being quite opposite our focus of Joy. Dostoyevsky’s parable of the Grand Inquisitor provided an opportunity to talk about the way the world often views the Church, and a selection of readings from Nietzsche focused on his claim that “God is dead and we have killed him.” As somber as these passages can be, it is important that Christians constantly be reminded that the Joy we have is a gift of God, and that it is this gift that calls us into a different world than the one Nietzsche saw around him; while Nietzsche’s Madman could do nothing but shatter his lantern at his thought of God’s death, we remain able to look to the light of the Advent Wreath and all that it represents.
Tuesday was far more positive, as Bill led us through a primer on apologetics, a practice based on the charge of I Peter 3:15 to “be prepared to give a defense for the hope that we have”, quite appropriate for the Advent season. Bill’s book Reasons of the Heart laid out a foundation for practicing apologetics while keeping the process rooted in the humanity of one’s conversation partner. He reminded us all that Christian persuasion is not about winning arguments or proving our own prowess, but about worshipping God faithfully with all our mind and bringing others into the Joy that this entails.
Thursday we were honored to join Roger Valentine and the Osprey Point staff for their traditional Christmas party, this year with a special opportunity to celebrate Sherry Gruner’s years of faithful service as she and her husband prepare to leave the Eastern Shore. The chance to celebrate her presence with joy despite the sadness of having to say goodbye served as an excellent example of the goal of Christian life: we seek to serve God faithfully, rejoicing to see His works even when it means calling someone on to live for Him elsewhere. Finally, Beth Kaufmann drew the semester to a close with a Friday morning class looking back at the work we’d done thus far and helping to set the groundwork for next semester, walking us through the practical steps we’ll be taking to put all that we’ve been learning into practice as we prepare to leave this place and find where God has called each of us to serve Him next.
As I write this it’s hard to believe that we’ve already been at this for four months, and as our first semester wraps up I can’t believe just how much we’ve been exposed to and participated in. We’ve all gone our separate ways, many of us returning to friends and families that we haven’t seen since August, and yet despite our distance we’re still reminded of our unity in Christ as a Fellowship.
Advent reminds us that the Church as a whole is tied together as part of something bigger than individual congregations, and despite our differences and disagreements, we all ultimately cling to one Lord and Savior, and the Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace that He offers us provides a surer foundation than any man-made structures ever could. So, as the season draws to a close and Christmas is upon us, let the candles burn brightly within you, always reminding you and those around you of the source of their Light.