How do we observe Advent?
There are times when “observing Advent” can only mean watching it out of the corner of our eyes as we get consumed by our regular schedule of two churches, two kids (at different schools, of course), and two full-time jobs. Yes, you might say, it was observed: observed flying by. I can’t ever think of a time in coming to Christmas that I’ve felt the peace and equanimity I imagine I “should” feel.
I tell my children I’m writing this piece.
What do we do to get ready for Advent? We light candles, one says, since God said “let there be light.” Technically unrelated to Advent, but I’ll take it. We love our Advent wreath; January comes and we are usually unwilling to let go of the simple ritual of lighting candles at dinner. Even after the dried-out wreath is thrown away the Christmas candle usually stays until the claustrophobic house clutter of late winter makes us want to throw away everything we own.
Most years, we have an open house and invite members of both congregations my husband and I each lead. Huge plates of food and enormous masses of people crowd our ordinary house. It’s lovely and exhausting. Candles, parties.
We include Christmas presents for “angel tree” wish lists for families adopted by our churches in our shopping, intentionally scaling back our huge piles of stuff for the people in our household (we have enough).
Especially when it comes to faith practices, there is often a far distance between what we would like to have be true and what is actually true.
The Buddhist writer Sharon Salzberg has a wonderful piece about how to deal with rambling thoughts in meditation. Rather than regarding our rambling thoughts as an enemy to mindfulness, she says, the “magic moment” is actually when we realize we’ve been distracted. “That’s when we have an opportunity to be really different, and not judge ourselves, and not condemn ourselves, but simply let go and begin again.”
That’s my Advent resolution this year. Rather than desperately trying to measure up to whatever absurd definition I have of what families “ought” to do for Advent, I’m going to just keep beginning again. Beginning again as the candles shrink down to stubs. Beginning again as too many evening meetings or school events take us away from our table together. Beginning again, listening for the real meaning of Advent that has nothing to do with how we do or don’t measure up.
How do we observe Advent? First we have to understand what it is.
Advent is a time of preparing to make a home for Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ who comes as a tiny baby, power made perfect in weakness. Jesus the baby didn’t ace his spiritual disciplines. God did not choose to dwell with humanity so we could sharpen the weapons of our self-criticism. Jesus came for love. That’s it. Love for kids who just like the light of the Advent wreath. Love for parents who are doing the best they can. Love for sarcastic twelve-year-olds who often joke about how not-religious their clergy parents seem. Love for all of us.
That’s something to observe, and embrace.