Christmas Beyond Red and Green (An Advent Devotional)

I wrote this devotional as my contribution to the Holy Comforter Episcopal Church “Advent Reflections 2011.” It was written for December 16 (Advent 3). The verses for that day included:

Let all the ends of the earth revere him. Psalm 67:7
…my house shall be called a house of prayer. Isaiah 56:7
…you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. John 5:35
When Tenley and I visited Guatemala in July 2011 as part of a Christian Foundation for Children and Aging Mission Awareness Trip, we had a booklet that outlined “the plan” for each day. For example, we knew that on Monday we would start the day with a reflection, spend the majority of the day visiting with our “sponsored friends” (the children that we had been supporting through financial contributions, correspondence, and small gifts), and end the day with dinner and a video presentation.

The “plan” for Wednesday stated that we would start the day at 7:00 a.m. with the “Mayan Prayer” led by the project team. I had no idea what to expect, except that some of our fellow travelers seemed very excited about the Mayan Prayer.

When Tenley and I arrived downstairs on Wednesday morning, we could see what all the excitement had been about. I don’t know what time the team had woken up to prepare the elaborate presentation, but it was beautiful. A carpet of pine needles surrounded beautiful floral presentations – a floral rosary – the CFCA logo in flowers – representations of earth’s gifts such as corn, wheat, fruit, and beans – and in the very center, a cross of five colors.

In the cross, small green candles represented the center of the earth; red candles represented the east; black candles represented the west; white candles represented the north; yellow candles represented the south.

Many of the team members had dressed in their indigenous clothing; beautifully woven textiles that told stories in themselves. The history of the textiles goes back thousands of years, grounded in a land whose volcanoes and mountains have sustained generations of people who have a deep reverence for the earth and its products.

Each of us was instructed to choose a candle to light. For example, the people who had chosen green approached the center together to light their candles. These candles represented the “green fields, where the beatitudes become a total reality when we are conscious of our daily deeds.” The number of people wanting red (east) was pretty high, so I held back and lit a black candle. Black represented the west, “symbols of our death, the end of our earthly life, but the beginning of a new era.”

The Mayan people may have never worshipped in ornate cathedrals; they may have never had hymnals inscribed, “In Honor of So-and-So.” They may not have had many material worship trappings that most of us have become accustomed to.

But there, in the shadow of Lake Atitlan, the sky was as beautiful a ceiling as the most complicated fresco. My new friends, both the Americans with whom we were traveling and the Guatemalans who embraced us as their Christian “familia,” helped us extend our spiritual reach a bit farther, to more distant “ends of the earth.”

And it was in His light that we all rejoiced.

As you prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, consider opening your heart to another part of God’s creation that you have not experienced. You may find that reaching farther out brings you closer to the center, where everything is illumined by “the light of mutual love.”


Christian Foundation for Children and Aging Mission Awareness Trip Booklet
Mayan Prayer, Internet