- The arrival of a notable person, thing or event
- The first season of the Christian Church year, leading up to Christmas & including the 4 preceding Sundays
- The coming or the second coming of Christ
And additionally...my favorite season of the year. Why? Maybe because it seems like the most realistic one to me. And I think that's a good foundation to start each new year on...a real one. Advent is the time when longing & unmet desires meet celebration & fulfillment, holding the 2 ends of the spectrum of our human experience in tension without denying either of them. Grief and hope, pain and joy together. Because honestly, how often are we not feeling both at the same time in some way?
Advent is a season of waiting, preparation, longing, and celebrating. Amidst the chaos that our Americanized, commercialized, consumeristic "Christmas" can pull us into, we're given an invitation as the community of God's people during Advent to say no to the noise. No to the busyness. No to the stress. No to the spending.
We're invited to say yes to a counter-cultural quiet––silence even. Yes to slowing down rather than speeding up. Yes to spending less and in different places, so as not to feed the machine of unjust slave labor that our consumer culture breeds (especially this time of year). We're invited to prepare to remember in gratitude the first coming of Christ, to acknowledge the longings & struggles we need God to come for today, and to hope confidently as we wait for the second coming of Christ when all of creation will be restored and made right. Advent sets us in the past, present, and future all at once––in the fullness of time. Something about this helps us with the slowing of our paces, the realization of our smallness, and the wondering at a God who would choose to become human to prove to us we're not alone, that God is with us and understands, and to show us how to live in Love.
Advent is a time to listen to the prophets, to learn their language, and to adopt their eyes. A great Light has shown into the world, yes, but there is much darkness for it still to overcome. And there is much work for us to do in bringing the Light to bear on the places, people, and systems still desperately waiting on it. So we read Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms of lament, and the Gospel stories to learn how to see and talk about what is still broken, what is still gruesomely unjust & wrong––all the while speaking hope & a better way into the people and places that need it. A better way of Love that leads us to hurt ourselves and each other less and that adds to the beauty rather than the brokenness. A better way that helps to make this world a home where every child, every person, every part of Creation can be safe and loved. We have good news...for our own hardened, hurting hearts. For our loneliness. For the light flickering inside us that we haven't seen or felt in some time. For the children in our neighborhood who are becoming parents so young. For the victims of hateful, non-sensical violence in Ferguson & all the other places around the world due to the lies of racism. For those trapped in the sex trade and other slave labor. For the child soldiers. For the adult soldiers. For those misunderstood or discriminated against because of their gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, etc. For those considering suicide. For the deceived. For the betrayed. For the addicted. For the migrants walking the desert into our country as I type, hundreds dying. For the countries they come from. For our country, and all we surely have to apologize for. For those on both sides of the imbalance of power in our world...both the oppressed and oppressors. For those who feel forgotten, alone, unseen, or unheard. And for countless others, we have the good news of a better way. We really can have peace when we remember that we belong to each other––that we make it together or we don't make it at all (as our new friend Pastor Randy, a modern-day Samaritan, says).
And the songs of Advent give us language to speak this good news of a better way to ourselves and each other. To sing of the beauty and wonder at it, trusting it to be true even if we can't imagine how that could be so at the moment...
The language of Advent is rich. It is real. It is raw. It is good news for all people. It is our past, our present, and our future. The Story invites us into itself that we would be compelled to participate and play our part in it. And it calls for all of us...the dreamers & prophets, realists & pragmatists alike. It is a time to look at the world and ourselves and be painfully honest about what we see. But we're not to stop there. We're to dream for the world with a holy imagination guided by the Spirit, and to put our hands to making those dreams reality in practical, tangible ways. If we accept the invitations of Advent, the season can be such a centering and generative one. Here are some things that folks are making/doing as they open themselves to the discipline of observing this season:
- The Liturgists just released Oh Light (a liturgy of songs, spoken word, and meditation) to help us see both the light and shadow of the season.
- Enuma Okoro wrote a book called Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent that I couldn't recommend highly enough. It's walked me through the season with daily scriptures and reflections for the past 3 years now, and I expect it will for many more to come.
- Here is an article about the Posada that my friends and I got to participate in last weekend just across the Mexico border in Nogales. The Posada is a reenactment of Mary & Joseph searching for shelter in their travels just before Jesus' birth. Reenacting this on the border where traveling migrants are searching for same thing was a powerful reminder that the themes of Advent are not just of old, but so present today.
- Rachel Held Evans wrote a great piece full of ideas on how to embrace Advent and start new traditions this time of the year outside of the consumerized Christmas we've experienced for so long. She also wrote a series of blog reflections on Advent and the prophetic voice––deep and challenging.
- Jen Hatmaker wrote a post in 2011 that is still circulating today, and rightfully so. Read The Christmas Conundrum for a glimpse of how she and her family have struggled to relearn and restructure Christmas. Lots and lots of practicals in this article.
- My good friend & coworker Britney Lee wrote of her own tensions around this time of year...how to balance the love of gift-giving and the value of simplicity in a humorous-while-insightful tale of the two women living inside her right now. Click here to read.
- Advent Conspiracy is a great resource for churches, families, and other groups (or individuals) looking for guidance on how to do Christmas differently: worship fully, spend less, give more, love all.
- Page CXVI put out an EP of songs specifically for Advent to Christmas.
In closing, I'll just say that I've used words like "discipline" and "tension" for a reason. The ways of Advent are not easy amidst a culture set up for such a different way this season. They're not easy, but they are worth it. The way of freedom via limitations...saying our no's in the right places so that we may say our yes's rightly as well, experiencing the fruit that follows. I don't write as an expert or as a champion of these ways. If you notice, I'm only just now posting this on the 4th Sunday of Advent. Because even with the plan to slow down, prepare early, and listen during this time things can get out of hand. And they did for me this year. Unexpected problems with my apartment left me pretty mobile this month...hopping from house to house, pushed back deadlines on recording projects, last-minute packing and present-making before travel, and of course a sickness to fight in my body worn down from the frenzy. But even amidst the unexpected instability I've kept the Advent way in sight in small ways whenever possible, and am taking today to intentionally recenter as fully as possible. And I have to remember that my load, however awkwardly carried, is so light compared to what so many in the world are carrying at this time.
In the name of the One who is Mercy and Mystery, the One who comes with goodwill to earth and peace again for us all,
I wish you all a deep sense of that peace in this last week of Advent and a Merry Christmas in the days that follow.