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An essay for Anglicans Online
I have been thinking about Advent, what it means, and why it seems to be so hard to for us to treat the season as anything but dates on a church calendar, a holdover from a slower past. All around us the commercial world is getting ready for Christmas, bombarding us equally with advertisements and Christmas melodies, getting us "in the spirit" so we will buy and buy and buy. In the context of faith communities, we are preparing for Christmas, the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and we admit that such preparation takes time, but is even this sometimes the wrong track? I think it is.
Advent is one of two seasons of preparation (along with Lent) in the Christian calendar. Lent is relatively easy to comprehend, if not necessarily easy to live, as we pursue self-examination, self-denial, and good deeds in an attempt to emulate the life, and follow the teachings, of Jesus. By sharing in his works and his suffering, we hope to be better fitted to share in the joy of his resurrection and the glory of eternal life. It is a very active preparation, even though much of that activity may be unseen or even confined within the mind.
Advent, on the other hand, involves what could be described as a state of passive alertness. Literally, the word 'advent' means 'coming', and we await the coming of Christ. So why should this waiting be so difficult?
First, we need to wait without doing — a hard task for our culture of very active, time-oriented creatures. Additionally, we are waiting on the one hand for an event that took place two thousand years ago. On the other hand we look for an event whose time we cannot predict, but which we have no reason to expect in our lifetimes or those of our children or grandchildren. We are between times, suspended in the present but acted on by both past and future.
What I think we forget is that all beginnings start out in nothing, in an apparent emptiness, and that we must not rush to fill that void. Instead, our task in Advent is to cultivate emptiness, sweep our lives clean, and wait for the Spirit to fill us. We are not to be "in the spirit of the season", but have the Spirit in us. Only thus can we be rightly directed as we progress to action.
Just dates on a calendar, not corresponding with the actual time needed for preparations? No. Advent is not really a time for us to get ready for Christmas, and all our temporal preparations are incidental. It is a time for the Holy Spirit to make us ready for Christ. We wait for his coming, past and future, but if we can empty our hearts and minds of busyness, we can welcome him now and always.
© 2006 Frances S. Drake