Last Sunday was the start of the Advent season at Rolling Hills Covenant Church and in Christian churches across the country.
After 38 years as active member of RHCC, I was finally asked to participate in the Advent candle lighting service.
Actually, the music director asked my husband Jim who thoughtfully chose to include my sister Kathy and me.
No matter how long takes to be asked, it’s always an honor.
Participants and the congregation take the event solemnly to heart because of its religious significance. We dress in our best and pray we don’t stumble up the stairs or catch the church on fire, which—among the three of us—was a genuine possibility.
Advent means “arrival” pertaining to the coming of Jesus Christ and His ultimate return. The time leading up to Christmas and the birth of Jesus began in the third and fourth centuries as a time of fasting and prayer for new Christians.
Lighting the candle wreath during the Advent season is a custom believed to originate in Germany in the 1800s. The Advent season lasts four Sundays, culminating this year on Dec. 22. with the lighting of all four candles.
RHCC e-mailed specific instructions to us about starting cues, how to carry the lit candle lighter/snuffer and where to stand on stage.
When we arrived at church there was an actual “Candle Lighter Coordinator” to guide us through the steps.
Jim and I agreed the occasion would be more poignant if Kathy read the scriptures.
Kathy is an avid reader—mostly of true-life detective, Agatha Christie and “Chicken Soup for the Soul” novels. Her reading ability is about 6th grade level, but she is an articulate conversationalist and would understand the world around her a whole lot better if she wasn’t severely deaf even with hearing aids.
To help her aging eyes, I created a larger font for the Book of Isaiah verses Kathy would read to the congregation.
As she studied the Bible verses in our spare bedroom the night before, she sounded like a seraph talking directly to God. I couldn’t see Kathy, but I could hear her.
She’d make a mistake, start over, then proceed to rehearse words such as “righteousness” or “Wonderful Counselor.”
Kathy had a bout with vertigo the night before, so her whole recitation role was definitely going to be in divine hands Sunday morning.
I told her if she felt the least bit dizzy or nauseous, she wouldn’t be able to go up on stage and read the verses. To be honest, Kathy is probably the only reason I take high blood pressure pills.
Another tricky problem we had to face is, a while back, Jim had been diagnosed with familial tremors. He inherited this challenge from his mother’s side of the family, but he deals with it stoically. Well, really, he just ignores it and goes about his business.
Still, we decided ahead of time Jim would light the advent candle. This meant the candle lighter had to monitor the lit wick, travel down the long, middle aisle and up the stage steps. He also had to help me, help Kathy—with her bad knees—get up the steps and place ourselves behind the wreath.
After Jim lit the candle, without (whew) incident, Kathy began her scripture reading.
Kathy read slowly, enunciating each syllable and paused to look at the parishioners for effect. Behind us, the choir stood patiently as Kathy read on and on at her own protracted pace while the pianist continued to play soft, dulcet notes for three or four minutes past the time allotment for candle lighting.
For the first time in the history of RHCC’s Advent candle lighting service, the congregation clapped and cheered. And some cried.
After we three rambled off the stage, Kathy asked me if she did all right because she got nervous toward the end and a bit overwhelmed due to the beauty of what she was reading.
“Yes, Kathy,” I told my angel unaware with a catch in my own voice. “You were perfect.”