Julie can be such a toughy: she is disciplining me — that we stick with the Advent hymns during Advent. Sounds logical, especially in light of the temptation to rush to the more popular, lighter Christmas carols.
Trusting our Director of Music’s steady hand and wisdom in almost all things (wow, did I just get myself in hot water over that left-handed confession?!), I am doing my best to choose from among the Advent section of our hymnal– with which I’m not all that familiar. Julie is right: there is so little time and so much to do before Christmas. That’s an understatement probably!
Our faith tradition suggests Advent spiritual preparations having little to do with holiday cheer, warmth and light, or even Bethlehem and a baby. Faith challenges us: “If, during these four weeks, you follow only the red and green map the world offers– and miss the gathering darkness, the days growing shorter, the nights attaining their longest– you may well never reach that gentle and holy place where God can enter your life!”
Deliberately waiting, sending this out a day later than usual, I make my own small protest to Black Friday and Christmas’ commercialization! Shopping, parties and all the added seasonal detail aside, there are these strange, even uncomfortable promises about the end of the world. And about Jesus’ second coming. (“Oh, no, pastor, we’re not one of those apocalyptic kinds of churches!”)
Time itself gets confused and confusing for the next few church weeks. The Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend is Advent 1. The beginning of a new church year comes a month before the new calendar year. In preparation for remembering Jesus’ birth, we look to his second coming. Christ came into the world, is coming into our lives, will come again??? It’s all very post-modern!
All false optimism aside– Advent insists that the new thing God started with that Bethlehem baby is not yet complete. Honest with ourselves, looking around at our world and at our own lives, we should heartily respond, “Thank God, there’s more to come, that God isn’t finished with us yet.” Our tradition echoes our experience: salvation is still a work in process.
Thematically then Advent is a season of waiting. Not just for the 25th or for presents under the tree. But waiting on God. More than just sitting on your hands and watching the clock spin. Waiting on God isn’t doing nothing until some absence is rectified. It is not arrival delayed. Waiting on God is not passivity, no thumb-twirling idleness.
In its deepest spiritual sense, waiting is much more active, creative, crucial– like Mary waits on God. “Waiting on” in the sense of serving or, at least, becoming aware of what God is doing in and around us. When faithfulness makes us women and men in waiting, that appointed role is much more integral and involved. Waiting calls us to break through the irresponsibility of unconsciousness, to stop sleepwalking though life, to let go of mindlessly repeating business as usual.
Keep from sliding right past the rigor of Advent into the warm glow of a cultural Christmas (that has had its punch softened too)! To discipline us, the Advent season is marked off visually. I will be wearing a purple stole starting this week. And the paraments will be purple too. Sure, sooner rather than later, you will notice greenery beginning to decorate the sanctuary. Even hear the grace notes of Christmas carols. But the greens and purples warn us: do not try the red and green roadmap as some shortcut to Christmas. A colleague of mine, underlining his congregation’s need to wait on God, has invited them to “ponder the purple”! His invitation is clear if not easily attractive: look into your deepest night.
Beloved, make time for Advent.
What needs to come to an end?
Actively open yourself to new possibility.
Try something different.
Pay attention to what God is doing.
Come to church for the four consecutive Sundays.
Prepare Christ room.