One of my favorite Advent stories is told by a colleague of mine about their first year at a new church. They had started at the new church in October and were looking forward to their first liturgical season with the church. At their first planning meeting with the staff, they had enthusiastically shared their ideas in preparation for Advent. After they had finished, they turned to the staff and asked, “So what do you think? What other ideas do you have? What traditions of our church do I need to incorporate?” To which a staff member rolled their eyes and responded, “Advent, are we doing that again this year?”
Advent, are we doing that again this year?? Maybe this is a more common sentiment than I realize.
For some, Advent can seem like a strange season. While the rest of the world is ready to move straight from Thanksgiving into Christmas celebrations, Advent invites us into a liturgical pause of reflection and waiting. Uncomfortable with this waiting, many approach Advent like a countdown game.
Evidence of this can be found in the plethora of Advent calendars now on the market. There are chocolate Advent calendars, beer Advent calendars, coffee Advent calendars, makeup Advent calendars, candle Advent calendars, Lego Advent calendars, and just about every imaginable thing that is small enough to put in small boxes has been made into an Advent calendar. My dogs even received an “Advent” calendar from my parents. Each day, we open a perforated flap that reveals their treat for the day. While it is a fun activity for them, I doubt my dogs will benefit spiritually from this practice.
In the same way, I doubt we benefit spiritually from the practice of approaching Advent as a countdown to Christmas. This is not the meaning or intention of observing Advent.
The English word Advent comes from the Latin phrase—ad venion. Which, loosely translated, means “until the coming.” Advent was created to be a time for Christians to reflect on their outer witness and proclamation of Christ in the world. It is intended to be a time set aside to consider how the presence of Emmanuel (God with us) can transform how we relate to one another, love another, and how we can further the reign of Christ in the world.
Advent invites us to ask what difference Christ coming to the world has and can have in restoring the goodwill God intended for humanity and all creation. Advent invites us into a time of holy imagining not of what is, but what can be. This holy imagining is not only focusing on what Jesus brought into the world as the incarnation of God, but also what we are called to bring into the world as those who are created in the image of God.
In this season of Advent, may you attune your mind, heart, and spirit to the visions Christ revealed for humanity. Imagine how you might be able to fulfill these visions until Christ comes again. Through Christ’s presence and power, how might YOU bring more hope, more peace, more joy, and more love into the world through Christ? How might YOU live in a way that enables the light of Christ to shine brightly even in the darkest places? This, dear friends, is the invitation of Advent.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister