“Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.”

Confused and disturbed. This is the Mary that I can relate to. Mary’s encounter with the angel had to be both terrifying and exciting, wonderful and awful, challenging and comforting. When I reflect on moments in my life where I have experienced Divine presence, they are equally as confusing.

In the days leading up to Christmas, I feel confused as well. My favorite time of year to be in church has always been Advent—not Christmas, but Advent. I love the anticipation. I love the gradual build up. I love the way the stories of Scriptures come alive in a way that seems different than the rest of the liturgical year. The church I grew up in infused Advent worship with traditions like lighting the wreath that included more of the congregation in the practice of worship. I have even grown to like the Advent carols—not the Christmas hymns, but songs like “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” As I shifted from being in the pews to leading worship from the pulpit, I grew to enjoy the challenge of engaging these particular narratives in new ways each year. Last year, during our church’s “alternative” service, we actually made clay figurines of the characters of the advent stories—those often left out of the nativity scenes—during those four Advent worships. This is a season that I feel like I live all year round, living in hope and expectation of encounters with God with us, preparing for the just world to come by working for it in the here and now.

This year, I don’t yet have a congregation that I worship with regularly. I no longer serve in a church, but serve on campus. We have rhythms, but they are not the liturgical rhythms of worship. I am confused. I want to enjoy that same sense of communal anticipation and hope, but how do I without a worshipping community? I want to lean on traditions and rituals, but how do I access those as a new resident of a city where I grew up (even in the six years that I have been gone, I can see that traditions have changed)?

I am drawn back into the advent stories at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. In worship, at the temple, Zechariah was made silent in anticipation of how God was moving in his family. Mary sang in the presence of her cousin, worshiping God (in community) when and how it struck her. Elizabeth worshipped God by her unending faith through her pregnancy and the birth of John who would become the Baptist.

Feeling disturbed and confused didn’t keep Mary from seeking God. Feeling lost and in transition shouldn’t keep me from seeking God either.

This season, the Advent stories call me to be more creative about how I think about worship, finding the community I seek on campus, during special services for this season (pardon the “advertisement” below). I will need to be creative about what Advent traditions we start at home with our daughter who is two, just old enough to start to understand the words and meaning of this season. I will need to be open to meeting new communities as I continue to look for a church to join in Cincinnati, using Advent as a time to join in worship with great hope of what could come.

Wherever you are this season—be it in the transition of the end of the semester, be it at home among people you have worshipped with for years, be it never setting foot in a church but seeking meaning in this time—maybe it is a season for openness and creativity as we look for something deeper in our Christmas cheer.

  • Advent Worship opportunities during the end of the semester at Xavier:
    • Advent Lessons and Carols, scripture and song to tell the story of the season, with five of Xavier’s choirs performing together—Friday, November 30 at 7:30 pm in Bellarmine Chapel
    • Mass at 4 and 10 pm on the first two Sundays of Advent—December 2 and 9 in Bellarmine Chapel
    • iPraise Christmas edition, Ecumenical song and prayer to lead into finals— Wednesday, December 5 at 8 pm in Kennedy Auditorium (CLC)

Rev. Abby King-Kaiser is the on staff with the CFJ working in Ecumenical and Multi-faith ministry. New to Xavier this fall, she returns to her hometown of Cincinnati after six years in Oakland, CA. Her favorite Bay Area Christmas activity was enjoying hot chocolate at Union Square, people watching. This year, Findlay Market, Fountain Square, the Festival of Lights and not having to travel for the holidays are sure to make it a memorable season.