I’ve learned how much the Advent season holds, how it breaks into our lives with images of light and dark, first and last things, watchfulness and longing…. —Kathleen Norris
The season of Advent begins this coming Sunday (November 30). This marks the start of a new “Christian year” in the liturgical calendar, which is observed by many churches in a tradition going back more than a thousand years. Advent invites us to prepare spiritually for Christmas, both the festive day of December 25 and the other eleven “days of Christmas” that follow. These weeks through January 6 intensively draw our attention to the incarnation of God—Jesus’ entry into human history and his return at the end of time. Deep and powerful mysteries!
The spiritual writer Kathleen Norris suggests three themes that can enrich our lives during Advent. Perhaps these can guide some of your reflections over these next weeks, even as you finish up your semester and enter into holiday activities.
Light & Dark
The days grow shorter and the darkness lengthens as we approach the end of December and the “dead of winter.” How does the darkness affect you? Are you subject to Seasonal Affective Disorder? Are you prone to loneliness or depression or temptation during the holidays? Do the events in the news—Ferguson, Ebola, ISIS—cast shadows over your heart? In ways like these, we feel the brokenness and darkness of our world or our lives. Like the prophets of old, we may inwardly lament: “How long, Lord, will things be so messed up? Why don’t you do something?”
But Advent leads us to the Light of Christ. That’s why, for example, we have Advent wreaths. Four candles are set equidistant in a circle of greens with a fifth candle placed in the middle. On this first Sunday, one candle is lit, on the second Sunday, two candles, and so on. On Christmas, we light the Christ candle in the middle. Why not craft a simple Advent wreath for yourself this week. You could light the candles as part of your devotional times. By this symbolic accumulation of brightness against the increasing darkness, you rehearse the good news of what God, in fact, has done about our messed up world: The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
First & Last Things
From as far back as we have record, people in Northern Europe decorated their dwellings at midwinter with evergreens such as holly, ivy and laurel. Christians appropriated these practices in light of their faith. So now we set up Christmas trees with their bright adornments as symbols of life and signs of hope. And these trees recall for us the first Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. We might find ourselves thinking in these days about God’s original purpose for creation and humanity, and how far we have fallen.
But Advent also points us toward “last things” including the promise of a New Creation. As Paul intriguingly puts it: “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom 8: 19-21) Because the Creator entered his own creation in the birth of Jesus, not only will we as human beings gain eternal life in new bodies, in the End, the entire cosmos will be redeemed and remade!
Watchfulness & Longing
So here is the beauty of Advent: if you long for more light in the world and in your life, watch for Jesus—the Jesus who entered history in a Bethlehem barn two-thousand years ago, the Jesus who will come suddenly one day to bring history to a fearsome yet glorious end, the Jesus who wants to enter anew into your own life if you will only set aside times to be quiet and attentive, cracking the door of your heart to the Light. May you see him over these weeks and be filled with joy and hope.
For more on Advent check out Advent Can Make You More Alert to God