This Week: Nov. 21 - 27

Published: November 21, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving!

The School of Divinity will be closed Wednesday, November 23 through Sunday, November 27 for the Thanksgiving Holiday.
The last day of classes for the fall semester is December 9.
Exams begin on December 12.


This Sunday, November 27, is the first day of Advent and “New Year’s Day” for the Christian liturgical year.  The readings for the first Sunday in Advent in this Year B of the lectionary herald the start of countless Christian communities’ annual journeys to Bethlehem with language that sounds more like the fireworks of New Year’s than the lullabies of nativity carols. Indeed, the words from Mark’s Gospel and from Isaiah for this Sunday are vocally and visually fiery:

From Isaiah 64:1-9 (NRSV):

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence. . .

From Mark 13: 24-27:

But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling form heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. . . .

Yes, the language and images of these texts are quite a contrast to the Christmas carols that began playing in the mall the day after Halloween, if not before.  In the contrast, I think, lives a message for the first week of Advent and perhaps for the entire liturgical journey from Advent to Epiphany.  The sacred stories told during Advent through Christmas to Epiphany do indeed have powerful earthy, intimate moments, but these stories are also stories of breath-taking, startling, in-breaking, cosmic change. Liturgical scholar Paul Galbreath intriguingly suggests that Advent in Year B challenges us to move beyond the season’s nostalgic moments to embrace just how powerfully and wonderfully disruptive God’s story of incarnation really is.

Recently, I discovered in cyberspace a gift from cosmic space for this Advent season when prophets and New Testament Gospel bards tell of ripped open heavens and falling stars.  For the last several years, the website for The Boston Globe,, has posted a “Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar.” The site features each day of Advent a different photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope. The photos are cosmic, intriguing, expansive, startling, and quite fitting for the Advent lectionary, Year B:

Image Source:

This image of the Planetary nebula NGC 2818 was photographed in November 2008. I can almost hear emanating from the image Isaiah’s plea:  “O that you would rip open the heavens and come down. . .”

Last week, I spent time with some clergy who were imagining together liturgical gifts of this Advent season. One participant, a School of Divinity graduate, penned this poetic Advent prayer. The prayer stretches back to join the ancient voices of scripture even as it reaches forward to imagine a world transformed by God’s startling grace. 

Cosmic God, You surround us in every aspect of our lives. Your love penetrates our pain and surrounds our grief. Sometimes, we grow so tired of ordinary life, of walking through Walmart or pushing our carts through the grocery store. We long for you to break through the endless Christmas carols, to rip open the heavens and rock our ordinary lives. Fill us with your unexpected presence, with your unpredictable surprise, and with your ever present grace.
Reverend Ann Brinson, 
Pink Hill Presbyterian Church, North Carolina


Blessings on your week,

  Jill Crainshaw
  Associate Dean for Academic Affairs