Practices From the Inside Out: Advent Lessons & Carols

Practices From the Inside Out: Advent Lessons & Carols December 2, 2021

Practices From the Inside Out: Advent Lessons & Carols

Advent Lessons & Carols

Each year, our liturgical church has a special service of Advent Lessons & Carols. We remind ourselves, in music and words, how our journey together continues. Lighting candles, we take turns telling the story.

Telling our story is part of the preparation, part of the anticipation, of Advent. It helps us remember, helps us appreciate and understand how we got here. We each tell what we have read, what we have heard, what it means to us, and our story comes together around us. Each of us shares what we remember, and the story builds itself. The candles get shorter and the light from their flames illumines our story in new ways. We see and hear the story more deeply, more clearly, each time we listen.

Each year, as the days grow shorter and the darkness seems about to overcome the light, we take time to remember our story so far. We begin again each year.

Hearing the story of our journey, and helping tell it, reminds us who we are. We remember how we are overcoming obstacles, becoming our deeper selves, and growing together in community. Some of us remember why we began this journey, and how far we have already come. We pause, take a breath, and appreciate where we are, gaining strength and reassurance as we continue the journey. Our community grows from who we are.

Telling our story reminds us of where we have been so far, and helps us find the way to continue toward where we are going.

How do we remember the stories in which we are living? Who reminds us who we are in our hearts, and who we are becoming?

Advent is a season of remembering and rediscovering the story which holds us together and heals us. When we listen, we grow.

The Power of Advent Lessons & Carols

It can be easy for us to forget, or get confused.

Advent is not primarily about opening a window each day so we can get some chocolate. It is not about wreathes or candles, planning family dinners or shopping for Christmas.

Our season of Advent is all about finding what we have lost along the way.

Many of us have been shaken by the last couple of years. Some of us have lost people we love. We feel threatened and afraid, uncertain about the present and the future. What will happen next? Will we be safe, secure?

We feel we are in a rough, challenging place on our journey. Some of us question whether we are prepared or can continue.

It is easy for us to lose track of where we have already gone and been. We need to sit and remember the times we have struggled to overcome difficulties in the past. It is important for us to draw new strength and insights from our stories.

What would be better than to sit and listen to remember our story?

This weekend I will participate in Advent Lessons & Carols. I will read one of the lessons because I am much more gifted at reading than at singing.

We will sit together to listen and remember. Parts of our story which we have heard again and again will show us new wisdom. We will sit still in the dark and allow our shared stories to wash over us and fill us again.

Advent is the first season of each liturgical year. We begin each year in the darkest months by remembering and reflecting on the stories we share.

Our focus is not on analyzing or sorting out our way forward, but listening and reflecting.

Practicing Advent Lessons & Carols

Some of us take comfort from being physically present at a service of Advent Lessons & Carols. We need to sit where we are used to sitting to experience community and hear the story wash over us.

Others of us have the same sort of connection and community when we experience Advent Lessons & Carols online.

The most significant part for us is not where we are, but connecting. We need to be open and listen, ready for our shared stories to be active and alive within us.

Advent Lessons & Carols is not about attending a performance, or performing, or what we will wear. It is a contemplative practice of giving our consent to the presence and the power of the stories which are alive in us.

Whether we are singing or reading or sitting and listening, the stories we share remind us of what is possible.

We begin our new liturgical year immersing ourselves in stories of our shared past. Each time we listen to them we pray they will remind us and inspire us.

Our practice of Advent Lessons & Carols shows us how what we have experienced shapes our present and our future. Each year we begin again.

Advent Lessons & Carols For This Year

The stories we share inspire and remind us. We remember people who lived long ago, people we never met in person. The people in our stories remind us it is not the people in them who give meaning to the stories.

They were people a lot like us, full of personality and character, strengths and weaknesses. We listen to the stories again and realize each of them carries its own meaning for each of us.

As we practice Advent Lessons & Carols for this year the stories we share flow over us and fill us. We remember them and reflect on what they mean to us. Each story, and each person in each story, has something to show us.

The stories we share encourage us, inspire us, challenge us, guide us, and help us reflect. We think and feel our way through the stories we share, finding new meaning each time we do.

At the beginning of each new liturgical year we remember the stories which have carried us this far.

Who will help us remember our shared stories today?

How will we remind ourselves to reflect on the stories we share this week?

[Image by Jon Åslund]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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