First things first

November 15, 2021 by Maggie Harmon

When I was very little every year just before December, I would be given an Advent calendar (usually with chocolates), and every day before school I would open a small door and enjoy that bit of sweetness, knowing that there was a much greater sweetness that I was working my way toward. As a child we don’t necessarily understand the metaphor and growing up in an interfaith house it wasn’t taught, but it was certainly felt and I learned something important about faith through this daily ritual.

At some point in my growing years, perhaps around 4th or 5th grade the calendars stopped being called Advent calendars and were instead re-branded as ‘countdown to Christmas.’ I’m sure this is not universally true today but certainly it seems to be a lot easier to find a ‘countdown to Christmas’ item, than it is to find an Advent calendar. You can buy wine calendars, and flower calendars, I recently saw one for pets, and of course the trusty chocolate is still around. In some ways it is wonderful to see the ways in which the joy of Christmas has become available to so many beyond just those who practice the Christian faith. But, in some other ways, it is sad because we have lost a little of the sweet anticipation by making a long Christmas season without the waiting of Advent.

Advent is a time of hopeful anticipation, waiting for something that we can feel is wonderful and yet don’t quite understand. Waiting for something to happen, waiting for something to happen again – this transformational intervention will move us from darkness back toward light. Whether or not late December marks the actual birthday of Jesus, the movement of the season, is important to understanding the significance of his appearance in our life, and important to understanding the transformative power of Advent itself.

It is said that God is always in the process of creating the world; we are always changing, growing, transforming. In the Northern hemisphere, December is the season of dark, when we go to the interiority of our lives, restfully waiting and readying ourselves for the next thing we are called to. In the quiet darkness we wait for Jesus, Emmanuel, God being with us, we ready ourselves for the emergence of that transformational energy to come into our lives.

But you can’t just skip from Autumn to Spring, you can’t pass on the long nights of darkness if you are truly going to appreciate the power and the impact of the return of the sun. Every day can not and should not be Christmas because without that time of waiting and preparation in ourselves we can neither appreciate nor manifest the transformative opportunity that comes in the presence of Christ.

It is a profound act of stewardship, caring for God’s creations, to pause, to wait, to anticipate that which makes space for the new to emerge. I believe we need this in our lives personally, and we need this in our churches; if we just keep doing what we have always done, if we jump ahead to the celebration and just count down to Christmas without intentionally pausing in quiet reflection, considering thoughtfully how we might help in the transformed world Christ calls us to – counting up to a new way of being – then we never really make the space to change.

Advent asks us to wait, it is a season that challenges us to know our discomfort and to hope for help … it is a little sweetness that promises something so much more if only we are willing.