For the first time in my adult life, I’m nervous about Advent.
Every single year as our family travels home from Thanksgiving, exhausted from both poor food choices and extended family dynamics, my husband and I share this moment when one of us says to the other, “I cannot wait for Advent.” We both crave this season of prayer and patience, eager disconnect from the world around us, focusing instead on the coming of Christ. We think this every single Thanksgiving. Every year we calmly walk into this holy season, eager to prepare our family for Christmas and the holy enchantment it brings. And then we go to church on that First Sunday of Advent and are reminded by the lectionary readings that this is not a season of peace. This is not a season of gentle preparedness. Advent is not a season that tenderly points towards Christmas.
This year I remembered all these things about Advent before church on Sunday and now I’m nervous about the season ahead.
I remembered these things thanks the repeated refrain that runs through Fleming Rutledge’s collection of Advent sermons: “Every year, Advent begins in the dark…It is not a season for the faint of heart.” remembered these things because I pulled out my copy of Claire Brown’s Advent Reader for Peacemakers to read the introduction before the season began. Claire’s words jolted me out of my tranquil anticipation of Advent: “Before the joy of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, we walk through weeks of uncertainty about the world, repentance for our sins, and grappling with our need for God’s intervention and God’s call to us to address the injustices of the world. We prepare our hearts for God’s coming through faithful work and prayer.”
Advent isn’t about passively, peacefully waiting for Jesus to just show up. Advent is about faithful work and prayer. As Jesus says in today’s gospel, it’s about standing up and raising our heads when we see things that are wrong rather than backing down or ignoring the reality before us. Truthfully, I’ve stared a lot of injustices in the face this year and I’m tired of looking at what is wrong in the world. Because I know that’s what Advent calls us to do for these next four weeks, I’m hesitant. Because I know that what Advent calls us to do is essential and life-giving, I’m in.
In many ways our family’s Advent observance will look the same as it has in previous years, but with some added elements. We’ll light our Advent wreath at breakfast when we’re all at the table together and pray the words that I adapted from a United Methodist resource years ago.
At dinner we’ll read the appointed scripture on this calendar from Thomas Mousin and Merry Watters. The themes of Advent I typically ignore run throughout their selections. It should be a way to lead us into conversations about truth-telling, yearning, and taking notice of the things around us we usually don’t see or don’t want to see. Added bonus, this is a simple black and white calendar that you can print yourself on 8.5×11″ paper and distribute however you see fit.
Last year each member of our household participated in AdventWord by taking pictures with our phones or iPods, then showing them to one another at bedtime. This year I created a group chat for the four of us to make it easier to share photos at the end of the day. It also allows me to start each morning by sharing the visual or written meditation that AdventWord distributes to folks via email, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also read meditations on the word of the day in the recently published book Promise & Praise. If you didn’t order Promise & Praise earlier in the month, no worries! It’s also available as a Kindle or Apple Book so you can purchase, download, and read today.
New to us this year is this Spotify playlist of Advent music created by our Lifelong Learning friends at Virginia Theological Seminary. It’s an incredible mix of chanted psalms, folk music, cathedral choirs, and even Ben Harper. My hope is that it will offer a sense of peace to the more frenetic moments of our day (ahem, getting out the door for school and work in the morning) and will also be the background to my personal prayer practice of slowing down to listen for God’s call to action.
There are two other online resources I recommend that require minimal preparation. The first is the Advent Toolkit from Episcopal Relief & Development. It incorporates creating, learning, and praying, which are basically the three tenets of being an approved Team Liles resource. And the second is the beautiful printable Family Advent Guide from Little Way Chapel that is formatted as strips of paper to cut and place inside the windows of a traditional Advent calendar or made into a paper chain. Clergy mom friends strongly recommended this resource to our Grow Christians community, saying that it’s well-worth the $25 price tag. The Little Way Chapel website says, “the purchase allows for unlimited prints and electronic distribution of the Little Way Advent guide—a perfect option for churches, schools, homeschool co-ops, and generous friends.”
I am a bit nervous about being honest this Advent, recognizing that the broken world to which Christ came as a baby isn’t all that different from our broken world today. Rather than spending the season looking at the world around me through the glow of twinkling lights, I’m ready to be honest about what I see. And what God is calling me to do once I take notice.