14 Dec Advent Whispers
I did not grow up in a liturgical church. By that I mean that in my congregation we did not celebrate the “church seasons” or follow set patterns of prayers. There was no “Great Thanksgiving” that preceded communion or specially colored paraments and clergy stoles denoting Lent, Advent, Pentecost and the like. It’s been nearly two decades since I discovered a more liturgical way of “doing church,” and in that time I’ve come to deeply appreciate the gifts the church’s liturgy offers. Rather than a replacement of the strengths and values instilled in me by the tradition of my youth, my immersion in the liturgical rhythms of the church is a rich and deep embodiment of my journey with God.
Much of the newness (to me) of the church’s liturgical cycles felt natural and easy to embrace, but some of it has been less so—like Advent. After almost twenty years I still find that the temptation to bypass the waiting and preparation that is inherent to Advent, and instead, to rush straightaway to Christmas, is strong. When the local malls have geared up for Christmas before the last “Trick or Treat!” has been said, it’s not hard to see why Advent is a difficult concept to grasp, let alone practice.
After all, what are we waiting and preparing for? The baby Jesus has already been born, for goodness sake, so let’s get on with the baking, the decorating, the shopping and the parties. Into our hurrying and busyness and crammed schedules, Advent holds up a “slow down” sign. Slow down so that you don’t miss the joy of a baby’s smile or the gleam of anticipation in a child’s eye. Slow down so that your overwhelming experience of the season is not fatigue. Slow down so that you see—and seize—those unexpected opportunities to show a Random Act of Christmas Kindness to a stranger. Slow down so that you can become aware of God’s presence in your life and any new “visitations” that await you.
Advent invites us to be alert to signs of God’s love, peace, joy and hope, and it also invites us to be a sign of God’s love, peace, joy and hope. That means that Advent asks us to take a look at our lives and be honest about whether we’ve left any room for Jesus. Maybe that Bethlehem inn is not the only place that is too crowded to welcome Jesus’ arrival.
Advent is all about recognizing that Jesus didn’t come just once. Jesus comes all the time. To you and to me. To the lonely, the least, the lost. To those who are hungry and also to those who are full. To those who are expectant and even to those whose head is so bowed by grief, fear or despair that expectancy is beyond their grasp.
Celebrating Advent reminds me that my calendar and obligations are not what Christmas is about. Whether I get any Christmas cards out or not, God is near and is worthy of my worship. Whether I make cookies before the 25th or after New Year’s, either way it’s okay. Rather than being driven by my “to do” list, Advent whispers that God is in my midst, and what could be more important than slowing down and looking around for Him?