When I think of what Advent could mean if we let the words and images of the season sink in, I remember the holidays of 1989. Sandy and I were visiting her family during the week following Christmas. She took me to a local park in Baton Rouge near her parents’ home. As I opened the special gift she had for me, I found a teddy bear holding the pregnancy test results. Yes, indeed, we were expecting our first beloved child, and my heart leapt with joy and excitement about this new journey before us. My world was about to turn!
Never mind that the season of Advent had already dissolved into Christmas that year. For me, a nine month Advent had just begun. It was nine months full of anticipation, fascination, worry, joy, stress, hope, love, hard work, and teary eyed wonder. Ready or not, her she comes! We didn’t just sit around and wait, nor did we get so busy with “doing” that we did not pause to behold the mystery of what this would mean. It was a nine month journey on its own, full of its own rhythm and fire.
I have realized over the years that we are a people who need to reclaim Advent spirituality. In a culture where the season is tritely seen as “getting ready for Christmas,” we get lost in too many parties and too much shopping. A balanced diet of activity is fine and good, but frenzy lacking balance leaves our souls exhausted and still hungry at the end of December though we’ve had plenty to eat. As one sign of this lost spirituality, I have been disturbed by the way I hear people talk about the upcoming season in light of the economic downturn in our country. The other day, someone said bluntly “it’s going to be a dismal Christmas.” A dismal Christmas? How sad that we can let economics and materialism have the power to overtake our language and lay aside our faith. Perhaps we need Advent more than ever.
I invite you to the journey of rediscovering Advent. Its rich images and stories dance in the mind and inflame the heart. Isaiah promises the coming of the prince of peace. Zechariah is struck mute in disbelief, but when his mouth finally opens it is filled with song. John the Baptist insists that we prepare the way of the Lord, who will lay the mountains low, exalt the valleys, and make the paths straight. Mary sings “my soul magnifies the Lord” and speaks prophetically of the new justice Christ would bring to the world. John the apostle writes poetically of light and darkness that will never overcome it. We fathom a mystery that shakes us up profoundly. I invite you to take time to be washed over by the rich texts and the wonder-filled songs. Go deep. Don’t keep things on the surface.
As I write this, I am attending a week of Academy for Spiritual Formation and we are singing a song probably unfamiliar to most of you that is based on the passionate, active spirituality of Advent. It is improvised from the words of Mary in Luke 1:46-53 traditionally known as the “Magnificat.” The song sings:
"My heart will sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!"
In today’s world when we are involved in two wars and have a stumbling economy, more than ever it is time to rekindle our passionate longing for God. Have an unsettling Advent. It’s what we need more than anything.