What Does Advent Require?

It is more than preparation.

Advent candles and tapestry.

We are halfway through the season of Advent already. Advent in the Christian tradition occurs the four Sundays before December 25. That is the day earmarked as the birth of Jesus.

Advent is generally understood to be an annual time of preparing and waiting for Christmas, the personal recognition of the birth of Christ. For many, Advent is a sacred, significant time.

For others, Advent is just another word in the Christmas vocabulary. It’s familiar to us, but do we genuinely consider its implications in our hustle and bustle before the big day? Perhaps a better question is this: Do we even know what Advent means?

A concise, accurate answer to that question would be to recite the four universally accepted Advent themes: Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love, most often celebrated in that order on Advent Sundays.

An Advent banner at church.

I remember as a youngster having an advent calendar in our home. My two brothers and two sisters and I would take turns opening the little doors to reveal the contents hidden behind each tiny flap.

Each day of Advent revealed a colorful illustration, scripture, or word to ponder, or perhaps a suggested act of service to others.

I just remember the pent-up anticipation of what lay hidden behind each door. It was a successful subliminal modeling method for the Christmas waiting.

To be clear, no one would have described our family as devout. We were “religious” only because we celebrated Christ’s birth and attended the local Methodist church regularly.

But as youngsters, we naturally got caught up in all the secular holiday hubbub. Later in my life, I was introduced to knowing and respecting that other religions had solemn and festive holidays.

Consequently, the older I have gotten, the more I sense a spiritual link between the lights of Christmas and those of Hanukkah. It is a significant element of our Judeo-Christian history for this septuagenarian.

That understanding creates a deeper meaning to Advent, one too often ignored. While we wait for Christmas, Advent also calls us to reflect on what has transpired in the course of history, personally and collectively.

Human history is full of cruelty by one race, tribe, or religion to others who look, live or believe differently. The Trail of Tears comes to mind.

White settlers of our nation literally and brutally pushed out Native Americans from their homelands, where they had lived for generations. Those indigenous peoples not only lost their land, but many also lost their lives in the agonizing march west.

A similar but lesser-known atrocity occurred in Illinois and Wisconsin in 1832. The bloody Black Hawk War opened land to white settlers who replaced the Sauk, Fox, and other native nations.

Nor can we ignore the unethical enslavement of an entire race of people for economic purposes. That indictment, unfortunately, applies far beyond our southern states, where slavery was a way of life.

Perhaps you can add personal examples to this lurid list. Sadly, such horrific atrocities continue today around the globe. We only need to look at the headlines for confirmation.

The oft-overlooked reflective aspect of Advent requires each of us to acknowledge and confess these wrong-doings. Doing so is part of the necessary preparation for the celebration of Christmas.

So, Advent, like life itself, has a dark side. We must allow the season’s light to infiltrate the darkness that is all around us. Preparation, anticipation, and repentance are the main ingredients of Advent.

The principles of Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love help guide us through these dark times into the light. That is what Advent is all about.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

When is a chimney more than a chimney?

memorial chimney, Shenandoah NP
The memorial chimney at Elkton, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When is a chimney more than a chimney? I know that sounds like a strange question. The answer, however, might even be more so.

A chimney is more than a chimney when it no longer serves as a chimney. Now, I know you must be really confused. I can gladly explain.

When the Shenandoah National Park was first being conceived decades ago, hundreds of folks lived and farmed the land along the mountain ridges where the park was to be formed. They would have to move to make the park a reality. That became an issue.

In most cases, the government compensated landowners within the designated park boundaries for their property and buildings according to market value in the 1930s. Others received less than they thought they should. However, tenants operated many of the farms and received no reimbursement.

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Some of the displaced were resettled in nearby towns. Most were on their own, leaving behind fond, treasured memories and subsistent livelihoods.

Adding insult to injury, many of the abandoned homes, having been condemned, were either burned or demolished in developing the new national park. For those displaced folks, more than walls went up in smoke.

Year after year, families returned to where they used to live if only to view the ruins and pay their respects at nearby family cemeteries. In many cases, only the chimney of their former dwelling remained.

fireplace, Virginia
Where memories were made.
Memories of sitting by a warm fire in the dead of winter, of a mother preparing a family meal using the fireplace, and of looking up from working in the nearby garden and seeing smoke curling out of the chimney were all recalled. Together, the fireplace and the chimney served as the sources of survival.

Knowing that resentment still lingered in local families after all these years, grassroots efforts were begun to help quell that ire. Local non- profit organizations, community volunteers, college students, descendants of those who were displaced, city, and county officials worked collaboratively on a memorial project. They decided to establish monuments in honor of those removed from the parkland.

The chimney was chosen as the most logical symbol to memorialize those on the harsher side of the history of creating the park. To date, six memorials have been built. Two more are planned, which will complete the circuit of all eight counties that have land within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park.

For its part, the National Park Service created an informative, inclusive and accurate exhibit of the history of Shenandoah National Park at the Byrd Visitors Center at Big Meadows. Chimneys play a prominent role in retelling that story.

The latest of the chimney memorials was just dedicated in Rockingham County’s town of Elkton at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the Skyline Drive snakes through the park. Volunteers built these chimney memorials using native limestone and granite rocks. I imagine a little blood, a lot of sweat, and tears of both sadness and joy flowed in the process.

With the remaining people who were displaced now in the 90s, the memorials were built to keep the story alive through education about the park’s history, including its dark side. In truth, these chimney memorials serve a more significant, more admirable purpose. These chimneys also help heal those long-held hurts of personal injustices.

When is a chimney more than a chimney? When it serves as both an emotional symbol of history’s good and evil that can’t be changed, only remembered and respected, and one that reconciles.

Ironically, this cabin, complete with a local stone chimney, was built by the National Park in 1936, after many of the original homes were destroyed.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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