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From Darkness to Light: Celebrating Advent
by Kate Ristow
Lights are a focal point at this time of the year.
For an Advent service idea, see “Bringing Christ’s Light to Others during Advent” at the end of this article.


Lights are a focal point at this time of the year. In late afternoon, we turn on our indoor lamps to offset the gloominess of shortened December days. We decorate the outside of our homes with colorful lights and drape lights on the branches of the Christmas tree. We place fragrant candles throughout the house and we resolve to gather each day as a family to light the Advent wreath candles and to pray together.

In our preparations for Christmas, we give life to the words of Bernadette Farrell’s familiar hymn in which we sing, “Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your Church gathered today” (OCP Publications: 1993, 2000; used with permission).

Advent, a word that means “coming” or “arrival,” is a time to focus on the three comings of Jesus: past, present, and future. Traditionally, we refer to these comings using three images:
* History: Jesus was a real person born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago.
* Mystery: Jesus is always with us through the gift of grace. Grace is a sharing in God’s own life and love that we cannot understand but believe in through faith.
* Majesty: Christ will come again—the Second Coming—in glory at the end of time.

Advent marks the beginning of the new Church year. The heart of the liturgical year is our weekly celebration of the Eucharist, which places us at the center of the Paschal Mystery. Yet, throughout the year, these weekly gatherings have a rhythm and flow to them that build our identity as followers of Christ. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Church, ‘in the course of the year, … unfolds the whole mystery of Christ from his Incarnation and Nativity through his Ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord’” (n. 1194). (For more about how the liturgical year developed, go to catechist.com, Support for Catechists, Article Archive, and enter keywords our lives are marked, click “search phrase,” and see the article titled “Endings and Beginnings Celebrating a New Church Year.”)


Celebrating Year C

Luke’s Gospel is proclaimed during Year C, which begins on the First Sunday of Advent, on November 29 this year. Throughout this year, we will fall under the spell of Luke’s masterful storytelling, which builds from the infancy narratives and culminates with his account of the Ascension. Luke’s story of Jesus’ loving and saving actions is filtered through two lenses.

The first lens is the promise of eternal life Christ extends to all people. We become aware of this on the First Sunday of Advent when these words are proclaimed: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:27-28).

The second lens in Luke’s Gospel is the call to recognize that true discipleship involves showing love and care for others, as Jesus did. It is only by following Christ’s example that we can turn away from sin and return to God.

Luke’s Gospel paints flesh-and-blood portraits of people who either accept or reject Jesus’ teachings. In his parables, we meet the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37); the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31); and the forgiving father—who is accompanied by a lost son and a bitter brother (Luke 15:11-32).

It is Luke who tells us more about Mary, our Blessed Mother, than any other Evangelist. In the first two chapters of his Gospel, we find the five stories that we now call the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. Who can ever forget Luke’s description of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) or the Lord’s lesson to Martha and Mary on the importance of recognizing our priorities (Luke 10:38-42) or the way Luke contrasts the faith of Jairus and the woman with a hemorrhage (Luke 8:40-56)?

* Divide the class into small groups and distribute several Bibles to each group. Ask each group to find a favorite story in Luke’s Gospel and to decide why it is significant to them or what Jesus is teaching his followers through the story. Allow time for each group to present their findings to the class.
* Working in groups, assign the infancy narrative in the first two chapters of Luke (1:5—2:52) to each group. Have students prepare a play based on their reading that they can present to a younger group of students or as part of a prayer service to which parents are invited.


Shine a Light on These Advent Activities

Family Workshop: Invite families to come together to make Advent wreaths. This can be done at grade levels, in individual classrooms, or in a large hall with families working together. It may be a more effective activity for families with children in the primary grades or younger.

Fund the event by charging a fee or ask for donations from a parish group that promotes family activities. To save money, purchase in bulk the supplies you will need: wreaths, candles, and ribbons. Notify registered families about the supplies they will need to bring, depending on the type of wreath you choose. For example, every family will need wire and wire snips to make a traditional evergreen wreath. Chose a seasonal song geared to young children that can be taught during the workshop.

Work with families to create four simple prayers—one for each week of the Advent season—that they can pray at home when lighting their Advent wreath candle. Have the completed prayers printed up and duplicated so each family can take one home from the workshop.

Conclude the evening with a celebration in which the wreaths are blessed, followed by seasonal refreshments—perhaps cinnamon/sugar doughnuts and cider.

Votive Candle Holders: Several weeks before this activity, have each child bring to class an empty, clean soup or tomato sauce can. Two or three days before the activity, fill each can three-fourths full with tap water. Arrange the cans on trays and put them in a large freezer. The water must be frozen solid for the craft to be successfully completed.

You will also need ball peen hammers, thick common nails 3’ to 4” long, and several adults or responsible teens to assist and supervise the children. Tell the participants that they will be creating see-through votive candle holders. Show them a completed project.

The process is very easy—nails are carefully hammered into a can that has been taken directly from the freezer. Keeping the ice frozen prevents the can from collapsing when the nails are inserted and removed. Make enough holes in the can so that light from a candle will shine through the openings. The holes can also be hammered into a pattern—perhaps a star or cross. Let the ice melt, piur out remaining water, dry the can, and place a candle in it.

Kids and adults enjoy this activity because it does not require a delicate touch—only good aim. Keep in mind that ice chips are likely to fly about and that the area where the group is working will get wet.

Saints and Feasts Booklets: Encourage older students to research the holy men and women we honor during Advent and the special celebrations we observe during the season. These include: St. Andrew (November 30); St. Francis Xavier (December 3); St. John Damascus (December 4); St. Ambrose (December 7); Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8); St. Juan Diego (December 9); St. Damasus (December 11); the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12); St. John of the Cross (December 14); St. Peter Canisius (December 21); and St. John of Kanty (December 23).
 
Students can work in groups to create booklets featuring all the saints and feasts listed above or, working independently, each student can choose three to five saints or celebrations to include in a booklet. The theme of each booklet can demonstrate how the persons or feasts brought Christ’s light into the world.

Name Ornaments: Purchase solid-colored ornament balls for each student in your class. You will also need squeezable glue bottles with a tip, several wet rags, and bowls of glitter. Cover the work area with newspaper and enlist the help of parent volunteers. Have students use the glue to write or print their first names or initials on the ornaments. Allow the glue to set for a minute or two, then have students gently dip the glued letters into the glitter multiple times until the glue is covered. Mistakes can be wiped away with wet rags and, after the area dries, students can begin again. Supply chenille strips to hang the ornaments at home. Help students appreciate that the ornaments are a sign of our commitment to bring Christ’s light into the world through our words and actions in Advent.


The Advent Challenge

Catechists, catechetical leaders, parents, and even older kids often feel overwhelmed by the demands that are built into this time of year. Although preparing our minds and hearts to welcome Jesus should take precedence, we often get caught up in shopping, decorating, baking, partying, and an endless list of other tasks that push aside the spiritual dimension of Advent. Catechists often are required to teach a “regular” chapter each week, plus present an Advent lesson or activity, plan or have students participate in a service project in the spirit of the season, and celebrate special prayer services with their class.

If catechists feel stressed, we can only imagine what’s going on with the kids and the DRE! The same is true for parents who are juggling many extra activities and responsibilities during these busy weeks. Perhaps one of our biggest goals we can have for this season is to encourage everyone to schedule time and space for silence and peaceful reflection—in our classrooms, programs, worship spaces, and homes. 


Meet St. Luke

Luke was an Evangelist, the author of the third Gospel. Although he never met Jesus in person, his Gospel tells us that he relied on the stories of eyewitnesses to write his account of Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection.

Luke was a physician and he traveled with Paul on his second missionary journey. He may have even treated Paul for an illness or affliction of some sort because Paul refers to Luke as the “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). We honor Luke as the patron saint of doctors.

The symbol for Luke’s Gospel is an ox, an animal that was frequently used in religious sacrifices in ancient times. Luke’s Gospel reminds us of the great sacrifice Jesus made to save all people from sin and death.

Luke is also the author of the Acts of the Apostles, the exciting story of the how the early Church grew. In Acts, we learn about the work of Christ’s disciples and Luke gives us many colorful details to help us appreciate how they took on Christ’s work in the world: the coming of the Holy Spirit; the first Church council; persecutions; a shipwreck; signs and wonders. The history found in Acts is our history.

We celebrate Luke’s feast day on October 18. His writings continue to help us know the Lord and to discover that we are called to serve Jesus by serving others.


Bringing Christ’s Light to Others during Advent

Instead of planning a one-time Advent service opportunity for the whole class this year, help your students to recognize that Luke’s Gospel emphasizes Christ’s call to reach out to our brothers and sisters on an on-going, daily basis. Talk with the students about different ways they can serve their families and neighbors during this season and have them offer concrete examples. Emphasize that they can be “Light Bearers,” bringing Christ’s light to other through their words and actions in a special way in this Advent season.

Then have students use the attached template (CLICK HERE) to create a “Light Bearer” coupon book with one service coupon for each week of the season. Have them use markers or crayons to decorate the cover of the booklet and then cut out the four coupons and attach them to the cover to form a booklet.

Encourage students to choose one person to serve each week and to write the service they will perform to bring Christ’s light to this individual. Help them complete the first coupon and remind them to keep their commitment during the coming week. Tell students that they can fill out a coupon at home each week and present it to the person they intend to serve.


Kate Ristow, Contributing Editor to CATECHIST, is National Catechetical Consultant for RCL Benziger. She has been involved in children’s religious education for over 25 years as a Catholic-school teacher and parish catechist.





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