The Advent Season
In the rushing, hurry, hurry, super scurry of all the things we Must Finish in order to have a Perfect Christmas(tm) the notion that this season is one for spiritual reflection is mocked with the universal condemnation “Scrooge!” But in the life and wisdom of the church, we havediscovered that this season is a rich time for some Lenten reflection. Lent does initially seem out of place in our happyhappyhappy Christmas world, but that’s because there’s a mechanism of life we haven’t noticed yet.
Each year the church flows through two iterations of the prepare-party-reflect pattern so helpful for life and growth. We get ready for the Big Day, The Day finally comes, and then we remember what happened on that Big, Beautiful Day. This way we think ahead, are aware of what’s going on when it is happening, and then savor what happened. It’s a good way to live life too BTW.
The parties are Christmas and Easter, their reflection periods are Epiphany and Pentecost, and thus the seasons of preparation are Advent and Lent. This is part of why the color for Advent has been the same as the color for Lent (purple). But because Advent is more of a joyful preparation than a penitential one, the church has also used blue as the color of the season. It is still a Little Lent however, so the tasks of Lent: personal reflection and spiritual housecleaning are still part of what the season invites us to do.
In fact, Advent, sandwiched between the two great secular feast and family festivals of the year, invites us out of the whole mess. When the culture we live in goes on and on about how we need to fill the house with stuff, get the right toy, cook the perfect food, and host the perfect party, Advent says “rest and reflect on who you are.” When our schedules fill up to the eyebrows with Things We Must Do, Advent invites us away for a little inward look.
This is the sort of look which invites our awareness of the things that drive us. Why do we have to be with the family that emotionally stunts us? Why is it mandatory that our Christmas be just perfect (or else)? What are the things in our life that need to go in order to make new room?
That last item, the clearing out of old stuff to make room for new is really the point of the season. Though we have allowed the season to be Sanitized by Hallmark ™, the truth is that we are preparing ourselves for the coming of a baby. Those who have borne a child can cast their mind back to when they were in the last month of pregnancy, for the rest of us we’ll need to imagine. The baby is Christ, and just like he was in Mary, he is being born in us on Christmas (that’s the real gift we await on Christmas Day BTW).
But bearing a child is long, hard, monotonous work. Sure, we can go about our daily work (albeit with an increase in appetite, waddle, and frequency of bathroom visits). And on the outside our lives look the same (mostly). But at the deepest level of living our bodies are making space for a new life. Just as a mother of the body must make space within her being for this new life within her, so a mother of the heart will need to make space in her life for the life that is coming to her. In the same way, we are in the work of making space in our life for the new life of God as he is being born in us.
Advent then is a time to make that space. A time to go through the chaotic junk pile that seems to collect in our heart everytime we get distracted by the 10,000 things. From this housecleaning, we rise up with chains broken and new life beginning again. By building this restful, open space within our heart and in our lives while schedules and expectations push us about, we gain the strength to have new life in ourselves and be new life for others.
If we are to make space for this life, we need to spend time seeing, thinking, reflecting, and becoming in the quiet of candlelight.
Blessed Advent to you all.