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I have to confess something to you this morning: my tree has been up since November 1. I don’t know what it was, this year I needed those twinkling lights early. I needed the Christmas decorations that have lined the shelves at Walmart since Halloween. I needed the St Clement’s Community Carol Singalong that we held here last Thursday night. I needed to sing “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” right smack in the middle of Advent. 

The season of Advent is supposed to be this time when Christians slow down. We do our best to clear our calendars, resisting the urge to spend—whether it’s time, money, energy. If we’re lucky, we even manage to slow our sprint to Christmas to a light jog. We sing Advent rather than Christmas carols and hold off on Rudolph and Frosty until the Christ-child has actually hit the manger.

But, we’ve all had years, I suspect, when we’ve become a little too acquainted with the dark, years when there was too much waiting or slowing down in our lives. If you’ve been in the waiting zone for some time, Advent can feel, well, kind of redundant. There’s something about breaking the Advent fast for an evening of good cheer, even if it means joining the choruses of muzak played incessantly from shopping mall speakers, even if it means putting up your tree six weeks early.

Slowing down takes time and practice. How do we live this Advent season reverently and authentically without slowing down becoming another thing on our to-do list? Jan Richardson— the author, artist, and United Methodist Church minister—she has a poem titled, “Blessing the Door” from her book Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas. It goes like this:

Blessing the Door

First let us say

a blessing

upon all who have

entered here before


You can see the sign

of their passage

by the worn place

on the doorframe

as they walked through,

the smooth sill

of the threshold

where they crossed.

Press your ear

to the door

for a moment before

you enter

and you will hear

their voices murmuring

words you cannot

quite make out

but know

are full of welcome.

On the other side

these ones who wait –

for you,

if you do not

know by now –

understand what

a blessing can do

how it appears like

nothing you expected

how it arrives as


outrageous invitation,


how it takes the form

of angel

or dream;

how it comes

in words like

How can this be?


lifted up the lowly:

how it sounds like

in the wilderness

prepare the way.

Those who wait

for you, know

how the mark of

a true blessing

is that it will take you

where you did not

think to go.

Once through this door

there will be more:

more doors

more blessings

more who watch and

wait for you

but here

at this door of


the blessings cannot

be said without you

So lay your palm

against the frame

that those before you


place your feet

where others paused in this entryway.

Say the thing that

you most need

and the door will

open wide.

And by this word

the door is blessed

and by this word

the blessing is begun

from which

door by door

all the rest

will come.

Advent is a season of preparation, of pausing at the doorways in our lives rather than hurtling through them. Advent is a season of gentle acceptance, of noticing what lies on the other side of whatever door we’re facing, that it may very well be a place we did not think or wish to go. Advent is a season of laying our hands on the soft timber of those door frames and saying aloud what it is we need to say most: whether words of regret, sadness, fear, anger; excitement, impatience, relief.

In the Anglican tradition, there are two ancient forms of prayer that I’ve often thought of as “doorway prayers”. Prayers that help us to “press our ears to the door before we enter” as Jan Richardson says. The first is called the “Reconciliation of a Penitent” (there’s some old school language for us) and the second, “Laying on of hands and anointing.” 

The Reconciliation of a Penitent, commonly called “confession” is “available for all who desire it” and can be made “at any time and in any suitable place.” It’s an opportunity to unburden your conscience, to ask for counsel and encouragement from a priest, and to receive absolution for whatever might be troubling you or preventing you from moving forward. Afterwards, the priest may suggest devotions or actions to take. This is what’s known as “penance”; the priest’s suggestions are to be in keeping with God’s grace and mercy, never to punish or discipline the person seeking forgiveness. 

I prepare my own confession, usually two times a year, in the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. I go over the bridge to St James Church in the downtown eastside. I meet the Reverend Amanda Ruston. We sit, sometimes in the library, sometimes in the more traditional confessional booth. I speak; she listens. I confess; she absolves. We pray. God is praised. I tell you this, not so you have someone to blackmail for your priest’s deepest darkest secrets, but, because it’s a kind of unofficial rule that, if priests are hearing confessions they ought to be offering their own.

The laying on of hands and anointing has its roots in “Jesus’ constant concern and care” for those who were suffering in body, mind, or spirit. In the Bible, the author of the letter of James encourages any who are ill “to call for the elders of the Church to pray over them and to anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

The laying on of hands and anointing is a simple service found in the green Book of Alternative Services, one of the Anglican prayer books. It can include Confession and Communion, or not. It begins with the person seeking prayer offering aloud their specific requests—saying whatever it is that’s on their heart, whatever it is that needs to be said. Then, the prayer begins with these words: “Holy scripture teaches us that in acts of healing and restoration our Lord Jesus and his disciples laid hands upon the sick (and anointed them). By so doing they made known the healing power and presence of God. Pray that as we follow our Lord’s example, you may know his unfailing love.”

With permission, the minister or prayer leader gently lays hands upon the person seeking prayer. They pray in these or similar words: “May the Lord in his love and mercy uphold you by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit” followed by: “As you are outwardly anointed with this holy oil, so may our heavenly Father grant you the inward anointing of the Holy Spirit. Of his great mercy, may he forgive you your sins, release you from suffering, and restore you to wholeness and strength. May he deliver you from all evil, preserve you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

As we prepare this season to welcome the Christ-child, I encourage you to take a green book home with you and to read through these prayers on your own. I encourage you to reach out if you wish to prepare a confession or if you’d like to receive the laying on of hands and anointing. 

Our God is well-practised in waiting, whether for the world to be made whole, for humanity to be made well, or for goodness to prevail. My prayer this Second Sunday of Advent is that in your own seasons of waiting, that you would meet the Christ-child about to be born, about to cross that threshold of heaven and earth, to greet what lies on the other side. Amen.