Dry Desert
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna... in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 8:3

When Mrs. Handi first suggested that we try a no-rehearsal pageant, I was intrigued. What would that look like?

I believe my exact words were, "It sounds chaotic. I'm in."

Well, anyone who stuck around after the 10:15 service got a real treat! We had nine wonderful volunteers who showed up that morning with no idea what part they would play and no review of the script. Thanks to Mrs. Handi and our other intrepid volunteers, they quickly become angels, shepherds, a sheep, Mary and Joseph, and (of course) the star of Bethlehem.

Our two narrators kept us on track as they told the story of how God took on human flesh and came into the world one dramatic night, long ago.

Nine children in costumes stand at the front of a church, while one reads from a script.

As a child, I loved being a sheep in my church's Christmas pageants, mostly because I was a huge animal lover. Once I got older and was pushed into a speaking part, I insisted on being a shepherd (I think the angel dresses were unacceptably girly to me).

I cherish the memories of many years of crawling down the aisle or standing on a small stage at the front of the church, and many more years of watching my siblings do the same. And I'm so glad that we're giving similarly joyful memories to the children and youth of St. Paul's.

Last year, as you may remember, we did a digital Christmas pageant (here's where you can find that, by the way). That was an incredibly fun project to bring us together when we couldn't gather in person at all. This year, it was nice to remember that, even though we're still taking many COVID precautions, we've come a long way.

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, which is also called Gaudete Sunday. "Gaudete" means "Rejoice!" in Latin, as in "Rejoice in the Lord always!" (Philippians 4:4).

A stained glass illustration of a lit pink candle, with the word JOY written underneath it.

This Sunday is when we light the pink/rose candle on our Advent wreaths, which represents the aspect of joy in the Advent season.

Advent is about preparation for Jesus' coming, both his birth as a baby and his return at the end of time. Much of that requires sober self-reflection, but as we see in Mary's proclamation when she finds out she's pregnant: there's a great deal of joy to be had, as well.

When I searched for an image to accompany this post, it was very difficult to find anything that is particularly Advent-y. There were lots of Christmas trees, white candles, and red candles—not many purple and pink candles or green boughs without adornment.

The temptation to skip straight to Christmas is enormous. After all, the music is already on in all the stores, and preparing for Christmas takes up so much of our mental energy.

Our Advent traditions hopefully help us to remember to slow down and remember that preparing for Christmas is not just about checking people off our shopping lists. We're invited to prepare our hearts and minds for God to break into linear time and shatter the power of death. And that time of preparation is about reflecting seriously... while also leaving plenty of space to rejoice!

Everyone is talking about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, but even without it in Connecticut (as far as we know), our rates have been rising precipitously in the past few weeks. I’m anticipating worsening COVID conditions as the post-Thanksgiving infections hit and continue to spread throughout the winter holidays.

Rev. Helena sits on the floor in the sanctuary, surrounded by children, while she tells a Godly Play story. All are wearing masks.

That means we’ll need to keep wearing our masks for at least a little while longer, so I thought I’d share this prayer. I found it on Facebook in 2020, and it’s a prayer to say when you’re putting on a mask. It’s written by the Rev. Richard Bott, Moderator, Presbyterian Church of Canada.

Maybe you’ll read this aloud next time you put on your mask to go into work, or the grocery store, or school:

Creator God, as I prepare to go into the world, help me to see the sacramental nature of wearing this cloth. Let it be a tangible and visible way of living love for my neighbors, as I love myself.
Christ Jesus, since my lips will be covered, uncover my heart, that people would see my smiles in the crinkles around my eyes. Since my voice may be muffled, help me to speak clearly, not only with my words, but with my actions.
Holy Spirit, as the elastic touches my ears, remind me to listen carefully and caringly to all those I meet. May this simple piece of cloth be shield and banner, and may each breath that it holds be filled with Your love. In Your name and in that love, I pray. Amen.