Advent came late this year. It started at the last possible minute, this past Sunday, which means we had a little extra time for post-Thanksgiving activities, like digesting entire green bean casseroles and writing people out of our wills, than in years prior.
Now, though, it’s time to get our collective acts together, and get ready for Christmas. Not by frantically shopping, baking, and shrieking (the traditional “Christmas in America” formula), but by settling in for some quiet reflection.
If you’ve been playing along at home, you know I traditionally stink at Advent. What is meant to be a period of watchful waiting has always been a time of intense, panic-filled, often smoke-filled,* weeks. Our culture makes it extremely difficult to find the quiet required by Advent, seeing as how the holidays arrive in stores on the heels of the 4th of July, and by this point in December, we could construct new dwellings from the flyers and catalogues that have been clogging up the mailbox since October. And don’t even get me started on that manic episode set to music that seems to be playing everywhere, Carol of the Bells…
(*Yes, I do realize that ovens have timers, thanks.)
But this year, I have vowed to do Advent differently, and began by making the trek to a beautiful service of Lessons and Carols in the company of a dear friend. The choir was amazing, which is no doubt what inspired us to sing 80s music at the top of our lungs all the way home. (My extended remix of Adam Lay Ybounden wasn’t available, obviously).
Then, in the spirit of Advent peace, I chose not to respond to my friend’s text about his NFL team of choice beating my team of choice with the same level of snark that I would usually deploy. Proud of myself, I did feel the need to make sure he knew that I was sparing him the snark in honor of Jesus’ imminent arrival, just in case he failed to note my uncharacteristic restraint… but still, it was an Advent win.
The church teaches us that during Advent, we’re waiting for two things: the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the return of God to this world. Here’s a little something that my friend David wrote some years ago that explains the dual nature of Advent nicely:
This holy season is all about two “comings,” or two advents.
The first advent took place at the birth of Jesus — that great event that we will celebrate in a few weeks. The other advent is the second coming of Jesus into this world. When that will be, only God knows.
Thus, Advent is a time when we prepare to celebrate the first coming, but are also waiting for something else that has not yet come. The first coming, the birth of Jesus, was a message to all humanity that God had entered this world through Jesus Christ , who, because he died on a cross and rose from the dead, will come again. Jesus’ victory over death is what Archbishop Cranmer refers to as “the life immortal,” and what Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, describes as “eternal encouragement and good hope.” Because God loves you and me, God came into the world in the form of a human being. Because God loves you and me, God is going to come again.
And so we wait…. But because of Jesus Christ, we can wait with a great sense of hope and expectation.In the creation story of Genesis 1, we’re told that God creates the world by breathing God’s ruach, or spirit, over the formless void of the universe. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (KJV Gen. 1:1-2)
There’s a particular sense of anticipation that exists in the darkness and the deep, the world without form. My Old Testament professor described it as a still, suspended state, the way a bird broods, sitting on the nest in quiet anticipation of the start of something new.
And while we are talking about particularly New Testament events when we talk about the birth of Jesus and the coming kingdom, that same sense of brooding, that quiet and still anticipation, that we find in Genesis 1 is present in our observation of Advent, when, as David wrote, we await the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but also the arrival of something new, something anticipated, something not yet arrived.So my wish for you, for me, for everyone we know, is that we find it in ourselves this year to celebrate a peaceful, quiet, brooding Advent.
And that we retain that sense of wonder, of expectation, of anticipation, of certainty, that something new and wonderful lies waiting on the horizon, long after the season of Advent has passed.
(In case you haven’t heard it in awhile, here’s Adam Lay Ybounden.)