Prayers for the Advent Season

Annunciation (detail), Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1440.

I’ve written more about Advent than any other season of the Christian year. It’s like a Mahler symphony, densely packed with vivid contrasts, complex themes, cosmic grandeur, dark abysses and sublime radiance. It begins with the cymbal crash of an exploding world, and concludes with the tender adagio of a baby’s first breaths. Advent haunts our complacency, stirs our longing, and lights a brave candle in the dark.

My ten previous Advent posts, divided into the categories of theology, worship and practice, can be linked directly from last year’s summary compilation, “How long? Not long!––The Advent Collection.”  Whether you love the season as I do, or are wondering what it’s all about, I hope you will find in those ten posts some words to connect with your own journey toward the dawn.

Meanwhile, here is something new: a set of intercessions I composed for this year’s Advent liturgies at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on Bainbridge Island, the local parish where my wife Karen Haig is the rector. You may recognize specific borrowings from tradition, such as the ancient O Antiphons or the Book of Common Prayer, but it all comes from a lifetime of Advents, soaking up the language and embracing the themes of this transformative season.

I offer these prayers for both liturgical and private use. And if they prompt you to explore your own devotional language of longing and hope, so much the better.

Intercessory Prayers for Advent:

God of many names, God beyond all names; the beginning and the end of every story, the meaning of every life; infinite Mystery both hidden and revealed:

Hear us when we pray to You.

Blessed are You who join us together in the communion of Christ’s Body. Renew and energize your holy Church, in this parish and throughout the world, that we may be a resurrection people, manifesting your steadfast love in our common life of praise and service.

Hear us when we pray to You.

O perfect Wisdom, direct and rule the hearts of the leaders and shapers of society, raise up prophets of justice and peace, and empower your people for the holy vocation of repairing the world. May we entrust all our labors to the work of Providence.

Hear us when we pray to You.

O Deliverer, You unlock every door and make a way where there is no way. Set free all who are afflicted or distressed in body, mind or spirit. Resurrect their hope, grant them peace and refreshment, and restore their joy.

Hear us when we pray to You.

O compassionate One, hold us in your mercy: heal the sick, mend the broken, protect the vulnerable, shelter the refugee, strengthen the weary, rescue the lost, and give courage to all who struggle.

Hear us when we pray to You.

O Morning Star, bright splendor of the light eternal, illumining all things with your radiance: Come, enlighten all who sit in darkness, and those who dwell in the shadow of violence and death. Grant us your peace, and teach us to live in the dawn of your unfailing promise.

Hear us when we pray to you.

O Lover of souls, when we wander far away, lead us back to You; when we refuse your embrace, do not give up on us; when we forget You, do not forget us.

Hear us when we pray to You.

O Desire of every heart, the answer to every longing: You are the strong force that draws us into the mystery of love divine. Forgive us those things which distract and delay us, and lead us ever deeper into the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Hear us when we pray to You.

God who has come, God who does come, God who is yet to come: Make us an Advent people, ready and alert to welcome and receive You in the stranger’s face, the loving act, the moment of grace, the presence of healing, the birth of possibility, the gift of wonder. Let every heart prepare You room.

Hear us when we pray to You.

O Emmanuel, God-with-us, You show us the face of divinity and reveal the fullness of our humanity. Come: renew your creation, restore us all in Christ, and enable us to become who we are, your faithful and loving people. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.


Ten ways to keep a holy Advent

Camino de Santiago near Atapuerca

Camino de Santiago near Atapuerca

Advent is a time to keep watch for the unexpected comings of God, to prepare our own hearts to make room for the Blessed One, and to be ourselves signs to the world around us of divine compassion and justice.

Here is a list of ten general practices, each with some specific suggestions for the keeping of this holy season.

In a month that is already far too busy and rushed, these are not offered as one more to-do list to work through, but as ways to slow down, take a breath, pay attention, and make room in our lives for the birth of the Holy. These practices do not begin to exhaust the possibilities, but I hope they may stimulate your own thoughtful and prayerful responses. If anything here speaks to you, or prompts your own variation, try it out – for a minute, an hour, a day, and leave the rest to God.

Let every heart prepare him/her room.

1) Interrupting

Breaking the flow of habitual patterns can prompt new kinds of noticing and stimulate awareness. Once a week, or once a day, practice difference, welcome surprise.

Take a route to work/school/errands you have never used before. What do you see?

Take a walk in a place or a time that is not customary, and pay attention, trying to notice details of color, movement, and shape before words and labels start to fill your head.

Wear your watch on the “wrong” wrist, or not at all. Every time you look at the time and feel the interruption of automatic behavior, turn your attention to God’s presence in the here and now.

2) Silencing

Schedule a fixed time each day (between 1 and 10 minutes) for wordless silence in the presence of God.

Unplug yourself from all media one day a week, or at least for an evening. Pay attention to how your soul wants to use that quiet time.

Spend one whole evening during Advent, or at least one hour, in total stillness and silence. Turn everything off, light a candle or a fire, abstain from books and music, stop talking in your head. Listen. Who is knocking at the door of your heart? What does your deepest desire want to tell you?

3) Waiting

Make every experience of waiting in daily life a time of prayerful attention to the hope and desire within you. What are all the things your are waiting for? But what are you really waiting for?

Practice attentive and patient waiting. Sit or lie by a window where you can see only the sky. Wait for something to pass by: a cloud, a plane, a bird, an angel…

Wait for the full moon to rise (tonight). Wait for the first star to appear on Christmas Eve.

4) Listening

When you are out in the world, pause and close your eyes sometimes. What do you hear? Make those sounds the subject of a prayer.

Spend some time each day in a place of stillness where you can listen to your heart, and listen for God.

In conversations with friends, family, spiritual director, or stranger, listen for what wants to be heard.

Spend some time each day with music that awakens your heart and evokes the beauty of holiness for you.

5) Watching

Rise early one morning to watch night turn to day. Fit your prayer to the slow rhythm of dawning.

Pick a day to watch both the sunrise and the sunset, from a viewpoint that is unusual for you.

Notice the faces of strangers. Can you see in them icons of the holy?

Take a photograph of something that catches your prayerful eye. Write an Advent reflection, poem or haiku to go with it, and post on social media.

Watch a film that focuses your attention on the traces of God in our world or in our lives.

6) Praying

For at least part of one day each week, every time you enter a new space or begin a new activity, say this prayer: “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.”

Four times a day (rising, midday, evening, bedtime), face the horizon and pray, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.”

Four times a day (rising, midday, evening, bedtime) say the Collect-prayer for the week from the Sunday liturgy.

Cultivate a daily prayer practice, at a set time if possible, and keep it faithfully, even when (or especially when) you are pressed or distracted.

7) Reflecting

Select a book for daily spiritual reading. Don’t skip a single day.

Meditate on the daily readings for Advent (Year 2) provided in lectionaries, Advent books, or online sources.

Journal at least a few times each week. Try beginning with “I am waiting for…” or “I am longing for…” and write what comes to mind.

8) Loving

Visit the sick, the lonely, the sad, the prisoner.

Practice random acts of kindness. Pray that you may be a sign of Christ to everyone you meet.

Pray every day for the person who is hardest for you.

Whenever you are in public space, spend some time praying for everyone you see around you.

For one day, or at least one hour, make a conscious act of seeing Christ in every face.

9) Giving

Do an act of volunteering which you have never done before.
Do something to make more justice and peace.
Send money to a good cause.
Take something to a food bank.

Make a change in your own way of living that will be a vote for “a new heaven and a new earth.”

Pick one social concern that engages your energetic attention, and pray every day that God’s will be done. You don’t have to list possible solutions – they are usually beyond our own imagining. Just entrust the object of your concern to God’s mercy and God’s imagination.

Give yourself to deep conversation with family and friends about the Advent season, the feelings it brings, the action it inspires.

10) Receiving

Pay attention.
Stay awake.
Be ready.

Open the door of your heart
to welcome
the Stranger who knows you by heart.