By Amanda Markel
Today marks the first Wednesday in Advent, and that means most Lutheran churches will have a midweek service tonight. These services often take the form of Vespers or Evening Prayer, which are services especially appropriate to this time of year. Both services use the Magnificat, Mary’s beautiful song, which she sang after being visited by the angel, as the main Canticle. What better time of year to sing along with Mary the words: “For the Mighty One has done great things to me, and holy is His name; and His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.” In addition to the Magnificat, the Vespers service has a Responsory specific to Advent, and the Service of Light in Evening Prayer perfectly reflects the Advent theme of the light growing stronger in the darkness as we wait.
As a parent, I know how difficult it can be to get to these services. When you have young children, going out at night can range from challenging to exhausting (for the parents even more than the children sometimes), to the near impossible. Cranky children up past their bedtimes are no fun to deal with, especially not at church, where it feels like every eye in the room is on you at the slightest noise.
Trying to make it to church when you have older children has its own difficulties. This is a busy time of year for school activities, whether it’s an elementary school program, a middle school concert, or the myriad of sporting events that are part of high school life. Add in other activities such as teen jobs (not to mention adult jobs, which can also have extra demands at the end of the year), community events, and homework, and you might feel like you just don’t have time for church. You might find yourself with a free Wednesday evening, and think that staying home and doing nothing sounds relaxing. You may even have direct scheduling conflicts; you might discover that you are supposed to be somewhere else during the church service. What are you supposed to do? It can be tempting to make church the first thing to go off of your schedule, especially if it’s not a Divine Service and the Lord’s Supper isn’t being celebrated. You might think that since you go to church every Sunday morning, the Wednesday services are unnecessary.
But there are only three Wednesday services in Advent at most churches. Only three chances to gather with your church family, and prepare yourself for the coming of our Lord. Because this is such a rare opportunity, it should be at the top of our priority list. Wednesday services give us the chance to hear our pastors share the Word with us, to sing the beautiful Advent hymns from our hymnal, to take time to slow down, and focus on why we observe Advent in the first place. That’s only three extra times we get to be in church during this season…only three! We find it easy to make room on our busy calendars for social activities like Christmas parties and movie nights, so it should also be easy to make time for church only three extra times. And because there are only three services, it’s especially important to make room on your calendar for all of them, because once you miss one, it’s easy to justify skipping the rest.
It can be difficult, awkward, and uncomfortable, to take a stand and tell your family and the people in charge of scheduling your family’s many activities that you will not be participating in Wednesday night activities. But your children are looking to you to set an example, and they will form their opinions about what is important based on what you make a priority in your family’s life. If you make it clear that attending midweek services is of greater importance than anything else on your schedule, your children will begin to feel that way, too, and even start to look forward to being present for these penitential services. And what better gift can you give your children at this time of year than a desire to gather for worship at every opportunity, even when it doesn’t easily fit into your schedule?