Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas: O Oriens

The O Antiphons are a set of liturgical prayers prayed during evening prayers over the last few days of Advent. They are a beautiful way to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming, so I’m sharing them with you each day for the next week, along with some scripture verses and my own short prayer for each day.

Read this post to learn more about the O Antiphons.

This antiphon is particularly meaningful for me right now as the motif of light and darkness have been playing around in my head a lot this Advent. You can read some of my thoughts about this Here.

December 21st: O Oriens

“O Morning Star,
splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

Click here to hear this antiphon in Latin.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

May the Morning Star, the “Life-Light”, Jesus, the light of the world, come to each of us this day and pierce our darkness.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany

EDIT: I just realized that today is the Winter Solstice and that this antiphon about light falls exactly on the shortest day of the year – so appropriate. I pray that even though this day is short and filled with physical darkness that it would be filled with spiritual light for each of you.

Photograph by Beth Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Light is Coming

So, each of the last few Christmas’s there’s been one part of the story and one Christmas song that has stood out to me and gotten stuck in my head and my heart. List night I realized what this year’s theme was going to be.

The theme of light and dark has been much in my mind lately. As I prepare for an Advent art exhibit centered on Light and anticipating the light of life coming into the world I have had my creative energy focused on light and darkness and the play between the two. I have also heard and come across this motif in much that I have been reading lately, from the Book of Common Prayer and the lectionary, to other more obscure sources.

But, God has been drawing me into this theme of light and darkness in a more personal way as well. Lately I have felt like I have been living in great darkness, longing for light that seemed distant and unattainable. I have been longing for light but truly was feeling discouraged and starting to feel like it would never come. Last night, God broke into my darkness with a small ray of light and hope. Through honesty, and heartfelt cries, through laying myself, riddled with doubt and anger and hurt, at the feet of Jesus, through others holding me up and fighting for me before the throne of grace, walls were broken down and hope broke in. All is not fixed, all is not finished, all is not healed, but I’m not fighting the surgeon anymore. I still feel like there is great darkness all around me, but I’m not pulling the covers over my head and making it darker, instead I’m peering out into the darkness and looking for the light that I really now believe is coming.

This theme of light in darkness made me think of the Star of Bethlehem – that is my symbol for this Advent. I feel like I need that star. I need light, but I don’t just need light for lights sake, I need guiding light. I need light that will take me somewhere, draw me somewhere. I need light that will take me to Jesus. I need light that will draw me into worship and deeper surrender to the real king. I need light that will guide me into a journey that will change me and make me wise, strong, healed and surrendered. I need light that will call me to give of all that is most precious to me that I might truly become all that is most precious to God.

There are many Christmas songs that mention the Star of Bethlehem, but for some reason O Holy Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem both stand out to me right now. (I just realized that they both begin with O – that O is always sung so sweetly, but to me at this time it feels more like a moan and a deep heartfelt groan and it seems fitting to begin there in that place of crying out O…).

Here are the lyrics for O Holy Night:

O holy night,
the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of
our dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world
in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared
and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope,
the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks
a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees,
O hear the angel voices!
O night divine,
O night when Christ was born!
O night divine, O night,
O night divine!

Led by the light of Faith
serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts
by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star
sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men
from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus
in lowly manger,
In all our trials
born to be our Friend!
He knows our need,
To our weakness no stranger;
Behold your King!
Before the lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King!
before Him bend.

Truly He taught us
to love one another;
His law is love and
His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break
for the slave is our brother
And in His name
all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in
grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us
praise His holy name!
Christ is the Lord,
Oh praise His name forever,
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim
His pow’r and glory
evermore proclaim.

And here are the lyrics for O Little Town of Bethlehem:

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
And, gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth.
And praises sing to God the King.
And peace to men on earth.

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him,
still The dear Christ enters in.

Where children, pure and happy,
Pray to the Blessed Child;
Where misery cries out to thee,
Son of the Mother mild;
Where charity stands watching,
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
and Christmas comes once more.

O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in;
Be born in us today!
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

 

 

 

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of thy only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

May we live in anticipation of the Light and Life that only Jesus Christ can bring.
May we honestly wrestle with the darkness of suffering, the darkness of our world, the darkness of our own hearts, the darkness of the uncertain future.
May we allow ourselves to enter darkness and give freedom to one another allowing each other to be in dark places and to embrace the work that God chooses to do in the “dark night of the soul”.
May we speak truth to one another amidst our darkened states and call each other to hope and to move forward in darkness – not ignoring it and not denying it, but also not wallowing in it.
May we remember that though much of life is dark, though God even calls us to and draws us to dark places at times, we are not meant to live in darkness – we are made to live in light.
May we gently and with freedom and grace draw each other towards Jesus, for “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”
May we come to truly know and experience the truth that Jesus spoke when he said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
May we each experience the true light of God, Jesus Christ.
May we experience what it means to “live as children of light.”
May we wake up, rise from the dead, and may Christ shine on us.
May we experience a new season of Light in our lives and bring a new clarity of healing light to the world around us. 
May we come to walk in the knowledge of the truth that we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

This post is a part of the December Synchrogblog, so please check out what these other bloggers are saying:

Phil Wyman at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Adam Gonnerman on being “In Darkness”
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Jeff Goins is “Walking in the Light with Jesus”
Ellen Haroutunian finds Light is Coming
Julie Clawson walks through Darkness and Light 
Kathy Escobar will Take a Sliver Anyday
Susan Barnes at A Book Look
Joe Miller thinks you can Discover Light in Darkness
Beth Patterson talks about Advent: Awaiting the Ancient and the Ever New
Liz Dyer says What the Heck
Sally Coleman muses about Light into Darkness
Steve Hayes with the Lord of the Dark
Josh Jinno with Spiritual Motifs of Darkness and Light
KW Leslie contrasts Darkness versus blackness
Erin Word writes Fire and Sacrifice
 

Photograph by Beth Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Back to the USofA for some good old R. and R.

Last night my parents and my husband’s parents graciously bought us tickets to go back to the states for Thanksgiving. We leave on Monday and will spend a week in Seattle and about a week in Arizona and then be back in Prague on the 2nd of December. It’s really last minute and I’m still sort of in shock. My head is swimming with all that I have to do in the 3 days before we leave. But, we are so excited to get to see friends and family and to just be in the states for a little bit.

Today I was meeting with a friend and talking through some stuff that has to get done before we leave and also getting some advice about support raising while we are back in the states and at one point she stopped the conversation and basically shared with me that she saw and heard that this trip needed to be a time of Rest and Receiving for Bryan and I. It suddenly dawned on me how little rest I have felt lately and how difficult it is for me to receive from God and from other people.

The past few weeks in Prague have been really difficult for me in many ways. I have known and experienced for a long time that Prague is a very dark place physically and spiritually and emotionally. But, the past few weeks I have FELT that darkness like never before.

In the past few weeks and months I have also seen more clearly and more tangibly then ever brilliant and radiant rays of Light and Hope. I have experienced God’s spirit at work in his people and have seen him piercing this darkness and speaking his truth.

…but, even with those rays of light, there is still so much darkness, and it has weighed down on me lately.

As my friend spoke truth to me and called me into God’s perfect rest I suddenly felt this growing peace and excitement about this trip back to the states. It really dawned on me and I really felt that for two weeks I won’t be here in Prague and even as I felt sad that I would be missing out on being a part of the rays of light God will bring in those two weeks I also felt relief and freedom that for a few days I won’t be under this same cloud of darkness and I can rest. It felt good to know that rest is coming and that I can trust that God will restore me so that I can come back to Prague energized and rested, with renewed passion and energy for bringing his Light to this dark city.

It also felt good to realize that I would be with family and friends who have known me and loved me for a very long time. And even though receiving and allowing others to support and love me has been a continual struggle for me, in this moment I feel such a deep need of others support and love that I feel like I am ready to receive and to relax into the ways that God wants to build me up through his body. I feel ready to let people in, ready to let them know that I need them desperately, and ready to accept whatever forms of love and grace God may direct them to give to my husband and I.

Lord, bring deep rest and restoration through this trip. And Father, teach me to, with open hands, receive your love and blessing through your people. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

A Simple Poem for Advent

I wrote this poem as a way to interact with Advent. In our small group we have been studying the Gospel of John using The Message translation and this poem came out of those conversations and meditation upon that book.

Word of God creating
Light, where once was darkness
Searching for my true soul
Obey, now, and take heed

God among the people,
Revealed at last His glory
Speaking to my blind heard,
Lamb of God to bleed.

Light amidst the darkness
Bright against the black sky
Reaching toward my lost soul
Speaking Life indeed.

Thunder in the desert
Echos through the canyon
Pulling at my dry heart
Calling out my need

Wine from not but water,
Deep and rich and flowing
Whispers to my parched heart,
Celebrate this seed

Friend cries out in triumph
“Come and see the savior!”
Tugging at my poor soul,
“Come, friend, come and see.”

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Advent is Coming

Today is the 1st of November and that means that Advent is just around the corner. I’ve been looking forward to this Advent ever since last Easter. And now it is almost here, just a few weeks away.

Last year I decided to learn more about the seasons of the church calendar and during each season I took some time to think and read what that season was really about. This year I want to start to reconfigure my life to fit and connect with each of the church seasons as they happen.

One of the first steps I’m taking towards that is the art exhibit I am putting together for Advent. Each of the artists will be creating art work that portrays Light in some way as a means for us to tangibly anticipate and celebrate the “light coming back.”

Under communism the Czech people weren’t suppose to celebrate Christmas. Christmas was down played, while the winter solstice was emphasized. They celebrated the fact that in December the light started to change and light started to come back into the world. But, that is also what we celebrate with Christmas and look forward to over Advent – the “Life-Light”, as Peterson calls Jesus in The Message, is coming into the world. Jesus himself says in John 8, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This year I want to enter Advent as a season of Light – remembering and anticipating at the same time that Jesus, the Life-Light, has come and is coming and will come again.

I plan on focusing and carrying this theme of light out throughout Advent. I would like to have a time of silent, dark prayer on November 30th – really engaging in and recognizing the feeling of being in complete darkness and what it means to have light come into the world. I will also be lighting an advent wreath this year and witnessing with each passing week the lighting of an additional candle and experiencing tangibly a growing light as I anticipate the celebration of Jesus birth.

These are just a few ways that I plan on entering into  the anticipation of the Life-Light, Jesus, coming into the world. These are ways that I plan on engaging in Advent. I would love to hear how you and your family are going to engage in Advent this year. Please feel free to tell me about your advent traditions (old and new) in the comments.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

Photograph by Beth Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.