Advent Blog 2020 – Journey Through Advent in Art

When I was in high school, I thought that I wanted to go to art school for college. I took classes at the Currier Museum of Art art school, and so naturally, my first-ever part-time job was as a Gallery Attendant (aka security) for the museum, which was just a couple blocks from my high school. Working at the museum meant hours on my feet. I quickly became familiar with the museum’s collection.

Maxfield Parrish, “Freeman Farm: Winter,” 1935, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH

This painting, “Freeman Farm: Winter,” painted in 1935 by Maxfield Parrish was one of my favorites to stop and admire when I was assigned to the gallery it was displayed in at that time. Parrish was an illustrator, a contemporary of Norman Rockwell, who used vivid colors and each piece of his feels like it has a touch of the fantastic. Yet, this painting is simple. It makes me think of the novel “Ethan Frome” or poems by Robert Frost. What I love about it is that you can’t quite tell if it is supposed to be twilight or sunrise.

Advent is the season of in-between, already-and-not-yet, and it coincides with this ancient moment of waiting for the solstice (the longest night of the year and the slow return of the sun). There is something powerful about this season and connecting to nature. As we head indoors, or busy ourselves with holiday shopping (although, this year it may be online), we might miss these moments of the natural world, like the last kiss of the sun on the horizon.

This painting also makes me think of this poem by Wendell Berry, who is a farmer himself:
Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times Before),
might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own white frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.

– Rev. Emelia…

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Advent Blog 2020 – Musical Moment

Do you miss singing with friends? We do, too. While we know it’s not wise to sing during the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are however extremely grateful for the work of all our musicians here at First Congregational Church. A huge shoutout to our virtual choir who record a new piece from their homes each week! And extra gratitude to Rev. Chad Kidd, our music minister, who organizes it all. Check out this virtual choir performance from the first Sunday of Advent, “Canticle of the Turning.” This song retells the Song of Mary (the “Magnificat”) from Luke 1:39-55.

Pssst … do you want to join in singing in this choir too? Curious about how it works or if you can do it? Contact Rev. Kidd or let us know and you could be singing in next Sunday’s worship service!

“Canticle of the Turning”
Words by Rory Cooney, based on Luke 1:46-58 Music: Irish Traditional; Star of the County Down, Arr. Rory Cooney. Arrangement 1990, GIA Publications, Inc. Permission with #A712439

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Advent Blog 2020 – #MissionMonday with Emmaus, Inc.

You can donate toiletries by dropping them off at First Congregational Church, 25 Woburn Street, Reading, MA Monday through Thursday from 9 AM to 1 PM until Thursday, December 10. Please use the “Office Door” (the one with wreaths and planters out front) on Sanborn Street. Just inside the door are boxes labeled for our December collections.

Each Monday in Advent we highlight a mission partner, and this week we want to share a little bit about the work of Emmaus, Inc. in Haverhill, MA.

Emmaus, Inc. includes emergency shelter services, access and education towards affordable housing, prevention and stabilization services, and the D’Youville Center for Social Justice. First Congregational Church seeks to support Emmaus, Inc. and its mission to serve the unhoused, unemployed, oppressed, families and individuals needing housing and support services. Throughout the year we offer drives for collections for shelter services and promote the annual Cycle for Shelter fundraiser.

Each December we collect toiletries for the emergency shelter services at Emmaus, and this year is no different! If you have toiletries of any kind (including those little hotel samples as long as they are unused and unopened) we welcome those donations.

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Advent Blog 2020 – Devotional Download

Each Friday we will share a devotional reflection. A devotional is something that you can use for spiritual reflection (writing, poetry, images, etc.) that help prompt your meditation, prayer, journaling, or just to ponder throughout the day.

“… an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’)”
— the Gospel of Matthew

This week we light the first candle on our Advent Wreaths and begin our Advent journeys. As we light our first candle of Hope, we recognize we need Hope in order to have Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope gives us the ability to aspire to these other three.

This week, if you are feeling despair, anxiety, or fear from the difficulty of this year (and the uncertainty of the future), allow this light to remind you that you are not alone. Remember: the angel’s message Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds was “do not be afraid.” We believe that the Christmas message of “God With Us” (Emmanuel) is why Jesus came to be with us. He was born into a world that was also experiencing trouble, unrest, oppression, and fear. God wanted to be with us then, and God still wants to be with us in a Spirit of Hope that never dies.

Adapted from Dr. Marcia McFee’s Advent Resource

What ways are you inviting hope into your life this week?
Write down a list of 5 hopes you hold in your heart today.

“Drawing Near”
A Blessing for Advent

It is difficult to see it from here,
I know,
but trust me when I say
this blessing is inscribed
on the horizon.
Is written on
that far point
you can hardly see.
Is etched into
a landscape
whose contours you cannot know
from here.
All you know
is that it calls you,
draws you,
pulls you toward
what you have perceived
only in pieces,
in fragments that came to you
in dreaming
or in prayer.
I cannot account for how,
as you draw near,
the blessing embedded in the horizon
begins to blossom
upon the soles of your feet,
shimmers in your two hands.
It is one of the mysteries
of the road,
how the blessing
you have traveled toward,
waited for,
ached for
suddenly appears,
as if it had been with you
all this time,
as if it simply
needed to know
how far you were willing
to walk
to find the lines
that were traced upon you
before the day
you were born.

—Jan …

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Advent Blog 2020 – Journey Through Advent in Art

As a part of our Advent Blog series, Wednesdays will feature artistic renderings of the Advent story. This week, I want to share with you “The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, which is one of my favorite paintings of this familiar Christian story. “Annunciation” paintings are a genre that depict the angel Gabriel sharing the news to Mary that she will bear God’s son (Luke 1:26-38).

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898), Philadelphia Museum of Art

Here in Tanner’s rendering, he steps out of the genre’s tradition which usually depicts Gabriel with wings, a dove descending, and perhaps a lily. Annunciation paintings also often picture Mary reading a Bible, praying, or often wearing the attire of a noble woman (as in many Renaissance and Reformation-era renderings).

Here, however, Tanner depicts a traditional Middle Eastern home with Mary listening closely to a soft glow of light. Here we feel like we can step into the painting and hear the conversation just as it appears in scripture. It seems Mary is just about to say “how can this be?”

Henry Ossawa Tanner was the son of an African Methodist Episcopal preacher, and one of the first African American artists to receive international recognition. He painted this piece just after a trip from Egypt upon returning to Paris. This painting is housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Take a moment to read the story from Luke while looking at the painting. Use this practice of “visio divina” to invite God near in meditation and prayer.

– Rev. Emelia Attridge…

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Advent Blog 2020 – Musical Moment

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” is a holiday song that feels like it might have been around forever! But did you know that it wasn’t written that long ago, AND, it was written in response to and during a very anxious time in the World? I’m finding that I’m relating to it in a new way this year – what about you?

Click the link below to give a listen as I narrate the history of this song from an article written by Richard W. O’Donnell and Gabrielle Regney in the December 07 St. Anthony Messenger. I know you’ll be singing it all season!

In anticipation and hope,
Rev. Chad William Kidd
Minister of Music

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Advent Blog 2020 – #MissionMonday with City Mission Christmas Shop

Each Monday we will post an opportunity to give back (call it #MissionMonday). This week, we highlight City Mission’s annual Christmas Shop, which helps provide gifts for children and families in need.

Donating toys, hats, gloves, mittens, clothing, books? Drop them off at the church office door on Sanborn Street from 9 AM – 1 PM, today through Thursday, December 3. There will be a box just inside the entryway to receive donations.

We will also be doing another “drive-by” collection day on Sanborn Street this Sunday, December 6, from 11:30 AM to 2 PM. Just pull up and drop off items (or volunteers can help take them from your trunk). Please wear a mask when making donations.

Monetary donations can be made online here:
Wishlists and what’s needed can be viewed here:

Shop local — here in Reading you might check out Whitelam Books or Goodhearts Children’s Shop.

This year more than ever it’s important to support local businesses. But you might also want to consider buying gifts from Black, Brown, and Indigenous-owned businesses, and women-owned businesses, when possible. It’s also important that children of color receive toys and books with characters that look like them. There are some resources here, too. Here are some suggestions:

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Sign up for Advent in a Bag!

Back by popular demand, and perfect to help prepare for Christmas this December while at home, “Advent in a Bag” returns for 2020. This year, however, it will look a little different! We’re not even sure at this point if it’s a “bag” or maybe it’s a “box.” No matter what shape it comes in, we’re excited about what will be included inside to help guide you through this Advent season.

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