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Advent is a season of anticipation, hope, and waiting for the arrival of Christ. The advent wreath, the lighting of candles, the preparation of the children’s nativity play: all of these church traditions invite us into the anticipation, hope, and waiting which are central to Christian life. I love these traditions, and probably for that very reason, I also find myself discontented with them, or at least with the way we sometimes engage them. They too easily become another part of the rush to Christmas, and we move through them like items on a to-do list.
Again, I appreciate these traditions (or at least many of them), because, even if they are co-opted by the rush of this season, they call our attention to something that is simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar—familiar in the sense that they are repeated practices, unfamiliar in the sense that they represent a change in the church year. Practices that blend familiarity and unfamiliarity have the potential to significantly shape us. We need surprise and newness to wake us out of our typical slumber, our going through the daily grind of life without noticing the works of God all around us. And such awakening often best happens in the comfort of the known. At the very least, I think this challenges us, as church leaders, to consider the re-working, the renewing of these Advent traditions, knowing that we are ultimately dependent upon God’s Spirit to move in and through us in the midst of these traditions. Renewal and awakening are the work of the Spirit after all.
At the same time, I think there is something more that might revitalize our journey through Advent: the awakening of longing. Anticipation, hope, and waiting are lived realities when they are experienced in the context of heart-rending yearning for healing, peace, justice, wholeness, and goodness in our lives, in the lives of friends and family, indeed, in the whole world. Where is poignant longing in our churches? When are our hearts split wide open, leading us to prayer again and again and again that God’s kingdom of God might come? While this, too, is the work of the Spirit, our Advent rituals could be so ordered that we are invited into the longing for the kingdom of God in all its fullness to come–not an abstract longing but rather the very concrete, central longings of our own existence.
Perhaps we must begin by naming our concrete longings for the coming of the kingdom, longings that begin in our brokenness.
*I long for more time to share with a 90 year old parishioner who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When she was diagnosed her only prayer was, “Lord, keep me from being a grumpy old lady.” She is living that prayer out–attending church even when in pain, inviting the Bible study to come to her house for lunch.
*I long for two couples I know who have recently separated after many years of marriage. I long for their pain to be healed and for growth that will transform them.
*I long for the 6 widows in my small congregation who are spending their first Christmas alone. I long for them to find space in their heart to grieve and remember. I long for a hope that is not an
empty word, but a true experience.
*I long for a better relationship with one of my children who recently told me, “Dad, I love you but I don’t like you.”
Last Sunday’s reading from Jeremiah keeps going through my mind as I face my longings. “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.” And my heart answers, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”
Thank you, Mike. This is beautifully put. Precisely the kind of concrete longing and praying that makes Advent, well, Advent, in my estimation.
My family has deliberately stepped away from many of the culture's practices of Christmas. Rather, we bring advent reflection to the forefront by considering the richness of Jesus' character through a series of 25 tangible objects. I am posting these original devotions on my blog this year. You can find them at http://www.providenceplace-harriette.blogspot.com.