A favourite Advent hymn with us is "The light of the morning is breaking" by H Elvet Lewis (found in Baptist Praise and Worship at number 146). The hymn is set to the Welsh traditional tune "Crugybar", and has a particularly powerful effect in this Advent season amongst our Slavic community here in Prague. At Sarka Valley Community Church, Praha 6 we have sung this hymn with great feeling as the tune resonates with Russian hymn tunes and the Advent themes are powerfully addressed.
The line from the first verse "new people are learning to pray" came to me afresh in a deep way today. On the first Sunday of the month (5 December) we continue our worship after the breaking open of the Word with an Agape meal. Everyone brings something and, of course, the food is amazing and international - speciality dishes from Bulgaria, Uzbekhistan, Lebanon, Lithuania, Belgium, Kazakhstan,USA, Ukraine, Czech lands, Latvia, Russia, Hungary, Netherlands and the UK - providing a truly international feast. Our Advent Agape is up to the usual standard. A candle is lit. We recall the many times that Jesus sat down with people - on a hillside, by a lake, at Emmaus, with tax gatherers and sinners - in a simple liturgy. Then freshly baked bread from within our own community is broken and shared, after which guests are free to take food from the amazing international buffet assembled to the side. Regulars join in and like the feeding of the five thousand we never seem to run out ! The children have a special treat. As they take the bread they are allowed to dip it into milk and honey, a reminder of their discipleship journey to the promised land of future incorporation into the church of Christ.
Conversation is rich and varied and by the time we get to dessert one of our Co-Moderators asks for news and testimony. So we are updated on our homeless ministry in Praha; our involvement with a group supporting chidlren of parents who are caught up in alcoholism or drug abuse; our missionaries engaged in church development in the east end of London and in Kosovo; our support for Burmese Baptist refugees offered asylum in the Czech Republic. Personal needs of our own members are also mentioned and then we pray. Prayers offered in many languages. We all use our mother tongues in prayer so we do not always understand exactly what is being said, nevertheless we participate in the heart worship and the warmth and passion of the people praying.
And so we come to parting. The Advent anticipation of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of god is somehow very real and powerful. The cup of blessing is passed around. Rich Frankovka wine from Mikulov in Moravia. We recall our Anabaptist foreparents who restored the vineyards for the Lords of Liechtenstein in the 1500's in return for safety to worship as they wished.
As H Elvet Lewis put it
Your throne, great Redeemer, be founded
In radiance of wisdom and love;
Your name through the wide world be sounded
Till earth be as heaven above.