For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising." (ESV)
While I read from Isaiah 60:2-3, José Ignacio Garrido lit the first candle in our Advent wreath on November 29, the first Sunday in Advent 2015. The words are addressed to the people of God, who were the children of Israel in Isaiah's day, but now the verses speakto the Church of the New Testament. They announce the opening of the Messianic period. In Jesus the glory of the Lord has arisen upon the Church, like the sun in all its splendor and majesty. While the earth as a whole still is covered by the darkness of sin and iniquity, the light of Christ upon the Church, which shone upon those who awaited the Messiah, arose and shone during all the long centuries since the Gospel first was proclaimed. This light will shine through the Church into the darkness and draw the nations to it, as light of a heavenly chorus drew the shepherds and later the miraculous star drew the Magi to Bethlehem.
This is the first years that we have used an Advent wreath during this season in our worship at Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca. The candlestand was built by ironworker Ciro Mendoza, and was decorated by Luz Maria and her daughter, Angi Santana. As I explained, the circle of candles appears to be adorned with pine branches, but the spines really represent the crown of thorns on the Lord's head as He made His journey to the cross for us.
That is why our first Gospel reading for Advent was Matthew 21:1-9. This is Matthew's account of the Lord's last entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We remember it as we begin our preparation for the celebration of His birth, because His Incarnation also was a joyous entry into this world, at which time He was hailed and adored. But it also was the beginning of His road to the cross, because He was born into this world to suffer and die for us.
We closed the old church year amid news of disasters, terrorist attacks, an international refugee crisis and the possibility of another global war. There were Venezuelans who, with people of other nations, died in the terrorist actions in Paris and Mali. Closer to home, starting on November 7, the neighboring state of Mérida, Venezuela, was struck with a series of earthquakes measuring as high as 5.3 in magnitude, and resulting in death, injuries and damages to homes and public buildings. Our preschool, as well as other schools, was ordered to close early for the year, as critical national elections have been scheduled for December 6. Many hope these elections will bring about changes in a country that has for years been plagued by runaway inflation, shortages of foodstuffs and medicines, and one of the world's highest rates of violent crime. Unfortunately, fears for public safety during this politically tense period proved valid as one candidate, Luis Manuel Diaz, was assassinated on the campaign trail.
Of course, the Scripture readings for the last three Sundays of the church year deal with the end times, the trials to come and the ultimate victory of Christ. We have been able to take comfort in such passages as Matthew 24:6-13, "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you dare not be alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (ESV)
Due to the early closing of the preschool, we held a Christmas party for the children and their parents on November 26, as we may not see some of them again until January. All the children received presents and they sang their favorite Christmas songs, such as "Campanas Por Doquier" which sound like "Jingle Bells", but really is about the Nativity). On November 18, the preschool children exchanged Christmas greetings with the preschoolers of St. Michael's Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Minnesota, by way of an Internet videoconference. We only recently have had the bandwidth to try something like that.
We ask you to remember Venezuela in your prayers in the days to come, and especially to ask for a peaceful solution to the country's problems and a brighter future in 2016.
El Amor de Dios/Campanas Por Doquier from David Ernst on Vimeo.