Each year in Wareside, we host a special service to mark the beginning of the church’s year, Advent Sunday. This year, we came into the church in the dark, with just a few candles lit, and the sanctuary lights illuminating the table and the angels. The service began in the dark with a video-projected reflection on the dark state of the world and a cry “Lord, have mercy.”
We heard Nehemiah’s similar heartfelt cry for his people and used it as a prayer of our own, before singing the familiar hymn “Dear Lord and Father of mankind,” asking God for forgiveness for our own foolish ways. Then we heard Isaiah’s prophecy about the people living in darkness seeing a great light, and the church began to light up as a candle flame was passed from the front, lighting our individual candles one by one. The traditional Advent hymn “O come, O come Emmanuel” captured well the longing of the people of Israel for God’s light to come and end their darkness.
We considered that the dawning of the light should be a great positive event, but a reading from John’s gospel reminded us that some people actually preferred the darkness because their deeds were evil and did not wish them to be exposed. A new set of words to the tune of “Once in Royal David’s city” helped us pray that we would turn our faces out of the shadows and toward the light of Christ.
The Rector addressed us with reflections from 2 Peter 3 on the ongoing darkness and the waiting we now experience before Christ’s promised return: while we are waiting for him to come, so Christ is waiting to give more people the opportunity to repent. But, one day, suddenly and with no further warning, he will return and renew the earth. We sang a new song together which picked up the two themes of waiting in the darkness whilst being confident of God’s promised perfect kingdom, “How Long?” by Stuart Townend.
After prayers, the service closed with a reminder from the book of Acts that Jesus will return, and the great Charles Wesley Hymn, “Jesus comes with clouds descending.”
It was a cold night, but the service was warmly received by regulars and newcomers alike. There’s nothing else quite like this service in the church calendar. Why not make it a date next year?