Last year I celebrated Advent for the first time. I did it in my own nontraditional way, just reading and praying through the bible passages each day. I wrote this post, which was a lament on behalf of the world after a hard year, and which is still just as relevant for me and the world this year. I didn’t grow up following the traditions of Advent, which means I now get to discover it for myself now as an adult, and make my own traditions.
This year I have a set of Advent cards given to me by a friend. Each day I will turn over the card, read the bible passage, and then write and pray in response. I will actively practice living with patience, waiting for God to act.
There’s something sacred about waiting patiently for God, which is why I have come to love Advent so much. Advent is when we re-enact the waiting and praying for Jesus to come into the world that Israel experienced all those years ago. Advent is also when we live with a heightened awareness that we too are waiting and praying for Jesus to come, to return to this world. Advent reminds us that we live in the Now-But-Not-Yet Kingdom of God.
There’s something special for me as well, in joining in a worldwide community of Christians reading the same passages and praying together as we await the day where we celebrate that God stepped into the world and became human for our sake. It is about slowing down and waiting, acknowledging the patience that is often required in following Jesus. In many ways it is about lamenting the heartbreak we experience here on earth while we wait for Jesus. These are not easy things, but they are also things that I think would make us stronger as a Church if we gave more thought to them – at least once a year anyway.
As the world seems more unpredictable, grounding myself in the routines of following Jesus keeps my feet steady and my heart unafraid. If you are seeking some peace and calm in a turbulent world and a hectic season, I’d encourage you to give Advent a go. You might find that a few minutes of peace and prayer each day, to remind yourself what we are waiting for and WHO we are waiting for will make all the difference.
If you want to know more about Advent, here is a guide to the history, meanings and traditions associated with it. Even if you’re not that curious, I’ve put my favourite part here for you to read anyway:
Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these ‘last days,’ as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future.
(‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ has always been my favourite Christmas Carol, which probably explains a lot about me). (Link to my favourite version here).
I’ll also leave the links to Sarah Bessey’s Advent series from last year – each post explores the theme associated with each Sunday in the Advent calendar. It’s a helpful place to start thinking about Advent and it’s broader themes.
I’m looking forward to Advent – my heart is yearning for the peace and reflection of this season. I hope in the lead up to the joyful season of Christmas you find some space for patient reflection and acknowledgement of the longing and waiting we experience in this world as well.