For those of us involved in the church or God thing, the four Sundays prior to Christmas mark the season of Advent. Considered to be the beginning of the church year, it is a time of preparation for Jesus to enter our lives: heart, body, mind, and soul. We are to move a bit slower, think deeply about things that make life matter, and wait. Wait for the coming of a promise of life, even if the particulars are not ours to know.
It is by and large ignored by pretty much everyone else and frankly even most Christians. The pull of Santa Claus, Christmas presents, Black Friday observances that now begin in July—at least at Costco, is just too much. All these things are at once seductive and anxiety-producing. Who has time to slow down? Who wants to?
While this may seem somewhat sacrilegious to say, especially for a priest, in some ways I’ve appreciated this overlooking of Advent. Those of us who do observe it are generally left alone to contemplate what, and who, we are preparing for. To take stock of the last year and ponder what a new year may bring.
Certainly, these musings are not only the providence of Christians. There is something about these longer nights and colder days that seems to invite this kind of contemplation. It is almost as if we need this time to slow down, be quiet, and just be. Look out and wonder what is possible.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark writes, “I have learned things in the dark that I could have never learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need the darkness as much as I need light.”
However, a couple of years ago my peace with this overlooked time was cut short. Looking over a circular for Target in the morning paper I saw an ad for an electronic Advent Calendar in the shape of the Christmas tree with little lights for each day leading up to Christmas. Darn I thought. Christmas wasn’t enough—now “they” have to have Advent too (whoever “they” are).
And yet . . . of course they do. We all do. We all need Advent. Unless we truly stop, if even for a short time and recall what is important—not what others tell us is important—but what we know in the very depths of who we are is important. What really gives us life; makes us happy; doesn’t exploit or harm others or our world; brings us peace, and allows us to see each other with grace rather than envy or suspicion.
So together let us claim this season of Advent as one in which we choose to be kind to each other and ourselves; let us claim this time of preparation to help us look forward to the year ahead, concerned with justice, not revenge, concerned with earth care not accommodation, concerned with helping each other thrive not just get by; let us claim a new beginning with thanksgiving, wonder, and curiosity; let us claim, as followers of Jesus, our pilgrimage of faith.
Blessed Christmas will be here before we know it. For now, let us allow ourselves to dream what is about to be born.
By Mark Unbehagen
How does one birth peace. . .
in a world that seems to prefer the profits of war?
How can one birth hope. . .
in a time when devastation is born of poverty and pandemic?
How does one birth love. . .
in a world whose heart is captive to fear?
How can one birth joy. . .
How can one birth joy?
The plastic manger scene on the front lawn
just doesn't do it!
Birthing is so much more!
It is, and requires. . .
the coming together of pain and ecstasy,
the joining of our deepest hopes and fears.
birthing is a messy business.
And yet this process occurs every moment of our lives:
as our bodies birth cell upon cell,
as our minds birth ideas and dreams into the world,
as our spirits birth. . .
in the midst of labor and pain. . .
as our spirits birth.. JOY!