Today is the second Sunday of Advent—a time of preparation and expectation. My Advent reader from Regent College (I am reusing one that was sent several years ago) covered the Isaiah 9:2-7 passage this morning.

“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.”

As I read this familiar Christmastide passage, I find my eye moving quickly across the page to the comforting verses that begin with “For to us a child is born…” I want to dwell on the words “Wonderful Counselor” (I try to imagine the wisest friend I know to help my limited mind capture the meaning of this title), “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.” I think of my current worries and cares and realize how the descriptors used in this passage to portray the Christ Child easily cover the concerns that affect my own small world and handily take care of the rest of the world’s, too.

If you back up and allow yourself to linger over the beginning verses, the images of “deep darkness,” “the yoke that burdens,” and “every garment rolled in blood” create an entirely different set of emotions and reactions.

One of the many reasons I love literature is because of the ability of good writers to illustrate truths in the pages of their stories. As I read the words “deep darkness” this morning, my mind jumped to the scene in The Hobbit (The Desolation of Smaug opens next week in theaters!) when the dwarfs and Bilbo enter the forest of Mirkwood. Here’s what Beorn, the shape-shifter, says to the company as they leave the safety of his house, “’But your way through Mirkwood is dark, dangerous, and difficult,’ he said. ‘Water is not easy to find there, nor food.’”

As the company begins their journey through the woods, Tolkien describes the forest in this way: “The nights were the worst. It then became pitch-dark—not what you call pitch-dark, but really pitch; so black that you really could see nothing. Bilbo tried flapping his hand in front of his nose, but he could not see it at all.” I have only experienced that kind of darkness once before in my life and that was on a tour of a cave in Kentucky. The guide turned off all sources of light in the cave and in that brief moment I caught a glimpse of complete darkness. I don’t care to experience it again.

So the writer of Isaiah wants to reminds us that in the “land of deep darkness…a light has dawned.” Hope! Expectancy! Joy! What words of comfort when life seems as dark, dangerous, and difficult as the forest of Mirkwood. One comes—has come—who will reign with righteousness and justice without end. Most importantly, the fact that this One sits on that throne has been accomplished by “the zeal of the Lord Almighty”–not as a result of anything we have done.

And on this second Sunday of Advent, we here at Stony Brook will celebrate with our annual Lessons and Carols service. Later this afternoon the school community will gather to hear the Christmas story read and sung. Carson Auditorium will be filled with students, faculty, and parents dressed in their Christmas best. Afterwards, we will enjoy a true feast in our new dining hall. It is an evening of joy, laughter, holiday spirit, and an abundance of good food–one of my favorite traditions here at Stony Brook.

Here at my house, the sights, smells, and sounds of Christmas permeate. Last weekend Anna and I decorated the house and tree. I treasure the mornings when all is still quiet and I can sit with a cup of joe in front of the tree. Those quiet moments feed my soul and prepare me for the day in ways that are hard to articulate.

One of the challenges of the season is figuring out how to balance all of the “over-the-topness” that can easily dominate one’s time, finances, and energy. For example, our house has a fireplace, which I love. I have never had a mantel to decorate before so I have been on the hunt for the “right” piece to add to my mantel decorations. I have the requisite greenery, pine cones, and stocking holders, but I wanted something to anchor the two ends of the mantel. One year, I tried mini-poinsettias, which worked until all the leaves fell off. Part of the problem is that I don’t know exactly what I want.

DSC05237This year I tried something different and it is still a work in progress. Motivated in part by a desire to save some money, I decided to take advantage of the abundance of tree branches and twigs surrounding my house. Anna and I sprayed painted some twigs white (today I will add some twigs spray-painted silver) and stuck them in the green vases I already owned. The look is natural, a bit rustic, with a hint of artsy funk. I like it. Perhaps my humble efforts will spark a new idea for your Christmas decorating.

Blessings to you this Advent Sunday.

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