Advent is coming to its crescendo …
when heavenly choirs will sing …
and the stable will stir with the raw sounds of new life …
and even so,
I am still acutely aware
that Christmas has not yet come.
Advent is one of my favorite seasons on the church calendar. What can I say, I always cheer for the underdog; and Advent is sort of the underdog of the church calendar. It always seems to get shortchanged by a culture that begins selling and celebrating Christmas while I’m still answering the door to Trick-or-Treaters.
But I will not be deterred! Every year, it is almost my battle cry: I will not skip Advent! I will honor the season of waiting by, you know, WAITING! I will listen to the voices of prophets! I will pay attention to the longing and the yearning, and not simply give in to the voices crying out for instant gratification! I will not be sucked in to a consumer mentality, but will find creative ways of giving of myself and giving sacrificially.
Each year, I answer these challenges with a sliding-scale of success: some years I honor Advent better than other years.
But this year, I have no trouble entering into an Advent state-of-mind. Advent means “coming”; it signals change. It is a time of waiting and hope, of expectation and anticipation, and – sometimes – of uncertainty and anxiety.
No problem. I’m there.
This year, just before Advent began, the session of the congregation I serve finished 4 months of honest, prayerful, difficult budget conversations. And they decided that the best way to be faithful disciples of Jesus and faithful stewards of their resources was to move from full-time pastoral leadership to part-time pastoral leadership.
Their decision invites me into a time of discernment: a time of prayer and listening for God’s guidance about how I am to move forward in the ministry to which God has called me. And this time of discernment brings with it all of those things that are characteristic of the season of Advent: waiting, hope, expectation, anticipation, and (sometimes) uncertainty and anxiety.
It also calls forth the question: How do we wait?
What do we do in Advent that helps us make peace with the uncertainty … and frees us to focus on the hope?
I think the answer is: we remember.
Ancient peoples did not have the scientific knowledge that we have about our solar system. They did not know that the daylight hours grew shorter in the winter because of the earth’s position on its axis. The waning sunlight caused anxiety and uncertainty. Often, they lit huge bonfires on the longest night – the winter solstice – to remind themselves of the sun’s faithful appearance each morning and to comfort themselves with its warmth and light. Their antidote to anxiety was memory.
Isn’t that also what the Israelite prophets did? They spoke of the vision they had seen – a vision of the future that God was planning – and taught the people to trust that future by remembering God’s faithfulness in years and generations and centuries past. “How can we trust that God will save us and not abandon us?” the people ask. “Remember God’s mighty acts, God’s faithfulness throughout the generations,” reply the prophets.
From Isaiah 41: But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off ’; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, l will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
This Advent season, I invite all of us to remember God’s faithfulness … and I invite us to be a prophetic voice – the voice crying out in the wilderness – to those who may have trouble remembering that God is forever faithful and will never abandon us. After all, that’s what we’re celebrating on December 25: Emmanuel, God-with-us. Perhaps in surprising and unexpected ways, but always with us.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Amen.