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Believe it or not, the season of Advent is upon us. It begins on Sunday, December 2, and will take us on a wonderful, expectant journey for the next four weeks as we prepare once again to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth into our time and our world.

I absolutely love Advent. I love the candles, the purple paraments, the music that rings with tones of longing and hope. In contrast to the noise and shiny plastic-ness of the “Christmas shopping season,” I love the quiet hope that Advent inspires. While the shopping malls pipe in Christmas music until our temples are pounding with silver bells and candy canes, we come to church and sing about the promise of Emmanuel, God-with-us. While the stores offer the thrill of instant gratification, we come to church and learn to wait patiently for deeper hopes to be fulfilled.

We have all heard the phrase: “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and I want to challenge all of us to do just that—by praying, worshiping and keeping our hearts grounded in God’s gift of Jesus Christ. As we begin this holy season together, I wanted to tell you about some of the ways that we can focus on our faith and prepare spiritually for the coming of Christ.

First and foremost, we can worship together every Sunday during Advent. This year, John Hill and I are going to be doing a sermon series about the main characters in the Christmas story. Using Adam Hamilton’s new book The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem as a springboard, we will delve into the stories of Mary, Joseph and Elizabeth. Then, on the fourth Sunday of Advent the choirs will lead us in a Service of Lessons and Carols.

Many of the adult Sunday School classes will be doing Advent studies. For adults who are not currently involved in a Sunday School class, John and I will be leading a class based on Hamilton’s book. We will meet in Room 109/110 each Sunday at 9:45, and all are welcome.

In addition to these offerings on Sunday mornings, the Wednesday Night Bible Study will focus on Advent as they meet each week at 6:30 p.m. after dinner. This group is always open to everyone, and it’s a wonderful way to get some spiritual nourishment halfway through the week. Then on Wednesday, December 19 at 7:00 p.m., our Stephen Ministers are hosting a special worship service of prayer, healing and hope. This service, grounded in quiet and prayer, can be especially powerful and healing for those who are finding the season to be painful or difficult.

These are just some of the opportunities we have as a congregation to journey through Advent together. But Advent is also a season to observe at home. Whether you live alone or share a home with others, I would encourage you to get an Advent wreath, light a candle each night or each Sunday night to mark the journey. Find a good Advent devotional guide and let that help you pray daily through the season.

My prayer for us as a congregation is that we will observe a holy Advent by finding ways to pray, to study Scripture, to listen for God, to examine our lives, to give and to wonder at God’s amazing love. I look forward to beginning this season with you on Sunday morning.