Christmas is only a few weeks away. You know the occasion is spiritually important but, as a student, I’m guessing you can’t think about that right now. Thanksgiving break is over and now is the crazy push toward end-of-term activities, papers, all-nighters, finals -- and then packing to go home where you'll crash and then scramble to get ready for Christmas. Plus, it’s not always easy being home for the holidays with no built-in routines, odd family dynamics, or old negative patterns that resurface. Not exactly an easy time to attend to your spiritual life.
A gentle word of encouragement: Don’t give in to all of that too readily. Instead, may I invite you this month to take advantage of the centuries-old pattern of observing Advent.
If you are part of a liturgical church tradition, you will be acquainted with Advent, but not all denominations emphasize the church calendar so you may not be familiar with it. Simply put, Advent is a time of preparation in the calendar period that begins four Sundays before Christmas Day (this year starting Dec. 1). This tradition, going back 1700 years, is part of the whole “Christian calendar” that mirrors the Story of God.
Here’s the basic idea. The church has always focused on two important points in the Christian salvation story: the incarnation of Jesus (God taking on humanity) and the death/resurrection of Jesus (God redeeming humanity). Hence we celebrate Christmas and Easter. But these feast days represent immense spiritual and theological truths, so we have periods that enable us to enter more deeply into their meaning: Advent leading to Christmas and Lent leading to Holy Week. Plus, both Christmas and Easter are not merely single days in the calendar, but they are actual seasons (12 and 50 days respectively) in which we can bask in their rich implications for our lives.
Advent invites us to dwell on two parallel themes. First, we identify with the Israelites of old in their longing for a Messiah, which leads to Mary and Joseph and the birth of our Savior, the Word made flesh. Second, we renew our own longing for Jesus to return in glory as he promised. As the December nights continue to get longer, we lament the darkness, brokenness and suffering in our world and in our lives. Against that, we look to the Light of the world (John 1:5; 8:12). This is the idea behind lighting Advent candles, week by week—the light grows even as the darkness lengthens.
So Advent becomes for us a season of waiting in expectation and hope—like the prophets of old, like Mary. What are you waiting for? What easing of hardship or healing of pain are you asking of God? What dreams and aspirations are you placing before God? All of us find ourselves longing for more of God in our lives and in our world. Advent invites us to purposefully wait and hopefully pray.
May I encourage you during these frenzied days to carve out some spaces, however brief, in order to get quiet and become alert to God’s coming, his advent. And when Christmas arrives, we will be renewed in joyful confidence that God is with us—Light and Life—and that the Christ will indeed return to put us and all things right. Amen.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Learn more about Advent in Bobby’s book, Living the Christian Year.