Alternative Advent 2

December 04, 2011

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, a season devoted to remembering the first coming of the Prince of Peace and yearning for the second coming. Yet, it seems Advent is too often reduced to merely lighting a few candles in church services. In the midst of the craziness of the season, peace hardly seems to describe this time of year. So, this year I am reflecting on a few efforts that take Advent to the streets in hopes the spirit of Christmas will trump the focus on shopping. One effort designed to focus on our hopes for peace is an annual tradition of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Since 1997, they have used the second Sunday of Advent as their annual Peace Sunday service, and this year two other churches in the city will join this effort. Near the end of their Sunday morning church service, the congregation moves outside where crosses dot the lawn to represent the individuals killed in violence in Louisville this year. The names of the individuals will be read and the congregation will pray for peace to come to their city. The church's newsletter this week explains:

Come now, O God of peace, make us one body. These words will be sung at the beginning of our Advent services on the second Sunday of Advent, December 4. Peace Sunday is highlighted by placing white crosses on HBC's front lawn in memory of Louisville residents killed in an act of violence. To date, 45 crosses will create a sad memorial on our lawn during this holiday season. At the
same time, the crosses signify our hope that God calls the church to work actively against violence in its many forms.
A photo from a previous service can be seen here. Highland's pastor, Joe Phelps, said about the service:

We grieve with those families for whom this is not a season of joy, and hold out the life of Jesus as a model for putting away violence. ... We also pray for all who work to make our community safe and just. It is a testament to the hope that God is not done.
This public ritual is an interesting testimony to the community and helps move the message of Advent from the sanctuary to the public sphere--as experienced literally by the congregation moving during the church service from the sanctuary to the lawn.