I’m so glad to be grounded in Advent! Living through personal and social change as the Christian Calendar suspends ‘Ordinary Time’. We enter a period of Holy Night, illuminated by candles set in a wreathe brought, perhaps, out of Norse mid-winter tradition, to light a path to the stable where preparations for the babe’s arrival have already begun.
While the celebration of Jesus’ arrival on earth has been part of our tradition for millennia, every arrival new to the faith has brought wonderings and gifts of their own. Hebrew, Roman, Greek, Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Bretons, French, Spanish, Celts, Britons, Welsh, Scots, Irish, traditions and yearnings from many heritages and continents are woven into the fabric of Christianity as we know it now.
Some are instantly recognizable. Greening of indoor spaces, mistletoe and holly leaves. Yule logs and singing, parties, gift giving, community’s warm light beckoning into cold and hostile nights. Gifts brought to the stable, nurturing, holding and caring as love readies herself to place her most precious self in human hands.
Some, embedded in the narrative of babe and manger, are unique to the lands they arise from. Traditions and practices common to Catalan, Brazil, Mexico, England, Australia, India, China, Korea, Hawaii and Canada, to name just a few, are found nowhere else in the world. Culturally informed, shaped, modified and enhanced, each thread in the fabric bringing scent, sight, sound, touch and taste to the creche shaped in many lands and languages. Each taking form to accommodate and nurture the arrival of the one who taught and teaches Love’s presence in life. Theologian John Caputo, attempting to help us understand something of the nature of the Divine, once said “G*d does not exist, G*d insists.” Jesus taught that G*d’s insistence is Love.
“Love one another. Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Having recently moved from the Quw’utsun (Cowichan Valley) to the Syilx Okanagan Valley, I am beginning to learn where the traditions and practices of this place are embedded in the meta narratives of Christianity and community. Called to be a ‘Community Minister’, I am early in my learning and, as I am part of a recently amalgamated church (Central Okanagan United Church) in Kelowna, some traditions inform while others are forming. Becoming and coming out of the new community’s growing understanding of itself. We are both, church and community - sorting, choosing, figuring out what to keep, what to let go of and what we might hope for, as the time of rebirth and renewal continues to inform our living.
The Central Okanagan is growing. The region I left behind nine years ago is now populated by at least 40,000 more people. Tall buildings dot the skyline while cranes herald the beginnings of many more. The city’s unbridled growth was a topic during recent elections with the incumbent mayor falling to a candidate who seems intent on figuring out how to manage matters. Everywhere there are signs of wealth and power. Everywhere there are signs of poverty, brokenness and neglect.
In Kelowna, as in much of the world, we are in the midst of becoming. During these Holy Nights of Advent, as we light candles for Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, we consider who we have been, who we are and who we ae called to be. Centred in a stable, grounded in the gifts of ages, we attempt to discern a way forward. A way to respond to Love’s insistence.
In the Advent of the cry of new life from the manger, as Bethlehem herself is besieged by power and fear, how then, shall we live?
Keith Simmonds is a diaconal minister living in Kelowna BC with his partner Laurel Walton. Part of a ministry team, he serves the congregation of Central Okanagan United Church as ‘Community Minister’.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking at https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, December 2nd 2022