Of Advent. The season is Advent. Not Christmas, Advent. I’ll admit, growing up, I didn’t truly appreciate the difference. Someone would say, “don’t you love the Christmas season?” and I would sanctimoniously reply, “Actually, it’s Advent” (y’all know how much I love a high horse). Christmas is my all-time favorite holiday and I leaned hard into more of a Christmas-Advent. The older I got the more I appreciated the liturgical year so the more I acknowledged advent but in a way that was always focused on the unbridled joy and hope of Christmas. And then I experienced deep grief.
I was terrified that my grief would rob me of my favorite holiday. That my love of Christmas would be yet another secondary loss. And, in a way, it was. My Christmas décor used to be themed around the word “joy” (I’m talking signs, pillows, ornaments-joy was literally flowing out of my home at Christmas time) and in my fresh, raw, grief I could not bring myself to hang those decorations. What I needed wasn’t Christmas, what I needed was advent, real true advent.
In advent many churches will change their paraments to purple (some do blue, but those churches are wrong. Obviously, that’s my personal opinion but I stand by it), just like in lent because these are both seasons of preparation. Advent is a season of longing, a season of waiting, a season of almost. In advent we recognize how much we need to be connected with our God. In my grief, I felt a deeper connection with the ancient Jews who were longing for a savior, longing for redemption, longing for light. I could not access the expectant joy that had always come with this season, but man could I get on board with the longing.
This is what I wrote on Facebook during that first advent:
And time keeps moving and somehow it’s advent. I always loved advent because I loved focusing on Joy. I was worried that without joy advent would bring nothing but sorrow but really I just needed a new word to focus on. This year advent is all about Emmanuel. God with us-God with me. God coming to earth, to the muck and mire, the pain and grief-God came. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. Emmanuel. Advent is also the story of a people longing for hope. Hope: that persistent little light that refuses to be extinguished no matter what life throws at.
My first advent as a widow was different from all the ones before it, but it was also the one where I most fully experienced the season of longing. In that first advent I felt most deeply the need for redemption. My old understanding of Christmas-Advent was not enough. But advent-advent-that I could work with. In advent I found a richness beyond my imaginings. I was seen and known in my grief, in my doubt, and in my longing because centuries of Christians had been there before. In his book Faith After Doubt, Brian McLaren says, “I felt that in the decomposition of failed or failing ideas, concepts, or beliefs about God, a deeper faith was taking root. And from that soil, a new sense of God was emerging and arising as well. There was a beautiful surprise in this: I more honestly and sincerely loved the emerging God than I had ever loved the one I tried so hard to understand, believe in, satisfy, and prop up for many years.” That was the beautiful surprise of that first advent.
Now the décor that spills out of my home fully embraces the need that this season highlights. “O come o come Emmanuel” We need an Emmanuel, I need an Emmanuel, a God who is with us. A God who doesn’t promise the way will be smooth but promises presence. Unconditional, unwavering, down in the muck and the mire presence. What we celebrate at Christmas is the word becoming flesh and making his dwelling among us. In advent, we prepare the way.
This year, I invite you to lean into advent with me. For this season I will post every Sunday, with each post highlighting a different part of advent that I love. Some of my favorite faith-filled people are also sharing Advent offerings that my help you prepare the way.
Our favorite, Kate Bowler, is offering a free daily Advent devotional (she also offered one last year and it was excellent. You can get your copy here.
One of my favorite podcasts, Cafeteria Christian, has an episode on Advent. The first 12 minutes are fun reoccurring segments which may be less fun for people who don’t regularly listen to the podcast. So if you are only interested in the Advent discussion, skip ahead to minute 12. Warning: They are blue advent people so you’ll need to forgive them for that. If you follow Cafeteria Christian on Instagram they are also offering Advent devotions there.
Some people choose to do a book study for Advent. Here are three books that aren’t necessarily Advent-specific but I think fit the theme of letting the light of the incarnation penetrate the darkness of this life. First is Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. Like the title implies, Taylor shows us how God works in the dark, “Through darkness we find courage, we understand the world in new ways, and we feel God’s presence around us, guiding us through things seen and unseen. Often, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most.”
My next recommendation is A Rhythm of Prayer edited by Sarah Bessey. This is a collection of meditations for renewal. Bessey describes it this way, “So no, the point of this is not to give you prayers to pray but to show you; you still get to pray. Prayer is still for you. You still get to cry out to God, you still get to yell, weep, praise, and sit in the silence until you sink down into the love of God that has always been holding you whether you knew it or not.”
Finally, the book I will be reading this advent is Dusk Night Dawn On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott. Full disclosure, I haven’t read this one yet but I love Anne Lamott so I’m fairly confident this book will be great. As the dust jacket describes, “Lamott shows us the intimate and individual ways we can adopt to move through life’s dark places and towards the light of hope that still burns for all of us. ” The back of the book is one quote” Yes, these are times of great illness and distress. Yet the center may just hold.” So, yeah, I have high hopes for this book. If you would like to read along with me I would love to discuss it with you.
Tis the season of Advent. How are you preparing the way? If you have an Advent practice that is meaningful to you I would love to hear about it-please leave a comment!