I so need Advent this year. Advent is the Church’s answer to the Hallowthankmas madness, otherwise known as the “holiday season.” Advent is about quiet and reflection, not excess. Traditionally, Advent is a penitential season like Lent only less intense. It is a time to reflect on the three comings of Christ: as a baby born in Bethlehem, as Christ the King in his Second Coming, and his daily coming into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Advent is “more through less” vs. the commercial holiday season which is “excess leading to emptiness.”
I especially need Advent this year because in the last twelve months, both our daughters got divorced. The tinsel and glitter of commercial holidays did nothing to cover up the unfraying of lives that had committed to stay together until death parted them. And they were parted by death, though it was not a physical death but rather a relational one.
Seeing the city turn on the “holiday star” on the mountainside on Veteran’s Day (Veteran’s Day?!) took the joy out of that, and not because I don’t honor veterans. The star used to go on the Friday after Thanksgiving as a religious symbol; now the city fathers and mothers do all they can to make it a “neutral” sign. (The city also used to light a cross on that mountainside during Lent/Easter but that went away a long time ago.) The “holiday” lights on houses and streets two weeks before Thanksgiving seemed tawdry instead of reflecting “the Light that has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it” (see John 1).
I am acutely aware this year that no amount of stuff or food or drink or decorations or parties or holiday concerts and movies are going to undo those dead relationships. There is not going to be an external remedy to my grief.
But this is where Advent comes to the rescue. Advent tells us that God has not forgotten his people. Even during the long centuries of waiting for the Promised Messiah, when all looked bleak in exile and occupation, God remembered His chosen Israel and He came. Not as they expected or even wanted but God came. He came in the way they—and we—needed: accessible, approachable, with a human face and voice that we could look on and not die. Advent tells me that God has not forgotten his Church or my family.
Advent also reminds me that there is plenty of waiting still to be done on this side of the grave: waiting for joy to come back into the sad places in my heart. Waiting for resurrection into new relationships. Waiting for an end to wars and famine and poverty and devastating storms and lying and abuse and greed. Waiting but waiting knowing that God has come and is in those situations, crying with His people, longing for healing and restoration Himself, waiting for the right time to send Christ again into the world, not as a baby but as Lord of the Universe.
I am so thankful for Advent. This year, I will cling to it like a life preserver in a maelstrom of gluttonous commercialism. O come, o come, Emmanuel; the O even looks like a life ring.
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Valerie Hess is an author, instructor in the Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, retreat speaker, musician, mother and pastor’s wife. She does a weekly blog at www.valeriehess.com and has written numerous articles, mostly on the themes of spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines and church music. She has written three books: Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines (co-authored with Dr. Marti Watson Garlett), Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings and The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation" (co-authored with Lane M. Arnold). Her husband is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO. She has two daughters.