- There is such a thing as an Advent calendar, which counts down the days until Christmas.
- During Advent, Christians look forward to the birth of Jesus.
Until recently, this was pretty much the sum total of my understanding of Advent. Observing the season is not part of my tradition–growing up, I didn’t even go to church for Christmas or Easter. If Advent was observed at my current home church, I must not have been tuning in.
This year signs of Advent are unmistakable. Paz and I helped create the Advent wreath for Sunday Assembly, we set out the Advent prayer books with different antiphons and hymns for the season and we put out Advent candles in the oratory. These physical changes signaled for me a different way of being for this month and I was curious what the changes signified.
I noticed that in the days leading up to Advent we had several readings from the Books of Daniel and Revelation. Then, on November 29, the first day of Advent, we heard from Luke:
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among the nations…Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25-36)
Why were we hearing so much about the end times all of a sudden? I wondered how it related to Advent. What, I wondered, does this have to do with the birth of Jesus, which we are supposed to be looking forward to?
About the time that I should have been starting on my blog for this month, I decided it could wait, that I didn’t really need to get an early start. I didn’t really want to get involved in writing something personal. I procrastinated. I dreaded. And I didn’t know why.
Finally, close to the last minute before my deadline, I opened one of the books on Advent that I borrowed from Lynn Lemberger, director of worship and music here at the monastery. There were many writings from a variety of perspectives. This bit particularly resonated with me:
Advent is the time for rousing. We are shaken to the very depths, so that we may wake up to the truth of ourselves. The primary condition for a fruitful and rewarding Advent is renunciation, surrender. We must let go of all our mistaken dreams, our conceited poses and arrogant gestures, all the pretenses with which we hope to deceive ourselves and others. If we fail to do this, stark reality may take hold of us and rouse us forcibly in a way that will entail both anxiety and suffering. —Alfred Delp*
It dawned on me what was at the heart of my procrastination. All of this unknowing around Advent had tapped into a fear that periodically rears its head in my faith journey. I worry that I don’t believe the things that Christians are supposed to believe, and that at some point I’m going to cross a line where I’ll no longer be able to call myself a Christian. I thought I had put that particular anxiety to rest, but here it was again. I didn’t want to take too close a look at what Advent meant out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to connect with it in an authentic way. I realized, finally, that Advent had tapped into a deep part of me that asks, “Do I belong?” I began to see that at times I try to deceive myself and pretend to believe what I think I’m supposed to believe so that I feel I deserve to belong to the Christian community.
Rather than moving into the unknown, finding out what this month before Christmas is all about, I was trying to avoid the whole thing, pretend that some of the scripture verses weren’t challenging. This pretense, based in fear, had led me to a place of exile. I felt outside the boundary of God’s love. The message or purpose of Advent for me was becoming clearer. Watch! Be alert to the ways that you deceive yourself, instead of putting your trust in God.
When darkness induces modesty, humility, faith and trust, it leads to a communion with God as God really is; it frees us from the self-deception of worshiping gods of our own making. Only the real God saves; not the illusion. The true Israelite is the wise person who makes a home “in the shadow of the Shaddai.” (Psalm 91:1) —John Navone*
I’m sure this won’t be the last time I lead myself down a darkened path. When that time comes, I hope to remember the wisdom of this season.
*Writings come from: An Advent Sourcebook, edited by Thomas J. O’Gorman.
Read other posts from Denise in her series, Far from home.