I started this thinking I’d do it every day. Day 1, Day 2, on a roll! Then my Wi-Fi service quit on me. A nice technician came and tested some things and gave me a bigger stronger shinier modem, but connection still cuts out for hours. Someone’s coming back the day after tomorrow to look at it.
I oculd have posted from elsewhere; there’s free Wi-Fi within walking distance in several directions. But there might be a little piece of me that was secretly glad for that excuse to lay low. I have only a dim understanding of Advent; I am not part of a congregation that observes it; I don’t understand why I want to draw close to it this year. Writing daily would be a way to figure that out, sure; but there are other folks writing about Advent, and I don’t know what I have to add. I’m afraid I might subtract.
Still, the connection is working tonight. And I long for connection. And sometimes it’s important, really important, to finish what one starts. Even if so much of it is about waiting. So I’m going to catch up by pointing the way to others.
3. I can’t find my copy of Kimberlee Conway Ireton‘s lovely book The Circle of Seasons, one of the books I’d most like to be reading this month. Here’s part of her companionable introduction to Advent, which she begins looking at from the perspective of a new mother. It’s a long excerpt, best read slowly. Tea is optional but recommended.
When Jack was born, I no longer got to sleep as well as I did those last months of pregnancy, which suddenly seemed like heaven compared to the reality of a child who cried for hours each day, who nursed around the clock and who only slept an hour at a time. I felt lonely, anxious and guilty. I wanted life to go back to the way it was before Jack was born, before I got pregnant even. I wanted to hang out with my friends, to go see a movie, to go out to dinner, to not be so anxious, exhausted and frightened all the time. I had no idea life with a baby was going to be like this, and I was a wreck. …
Just as life with Jack required a radical change in the way I was used to living my life, so life with Christ—Emmanuel, God-with- us—will require radical change: the radical reshifting of our priorities and the reimagining of what is possible in the world now that the incarnation has irrevocably changed the reality in which we live. The coming of Christ into our midst requires that we rethink our desires and that we learn to hold them lightly, allowing the desire of God to supplant—or increase—our own desires.
If we were to observe Advent as the season of thoughtful reflection and repentance that it has traditionally been, we would have an opportunity to do just that: to rethink our priorities, to realign our lives with God’s desires for us, to seek forgiveness and to start anew—the first Sunday of Advent, after all, marks the beginning of the church year. What better time to reflect, repent, receive forgiveness and so refresh our weary souls?
To spend the weeks before Christmas in this way would be radically countercultural, to be sure, but it would also serve to remind us that we are waiting for Christmas—and that the celebration of Christmas is worth waiting for.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
Each of the four Sundays of Advent has a watchword for the day as well as a biblical figure with whom it is associated. The word for the first Sunday is wait, and it is associated with the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord himself . . . / will give you a sign. / . . . the maiden is with child / and will soon give birth to a son / whom she will call Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). It is this sign, this Son, for whom we wait in Advent.
Our Advent waiting occurs on two different levels. Certainly we wait for Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth in history past, but we also wait for the risen Christ to come again. In fact, the Gospel passage for the first Sunday of Advent2 is not the story of Jesus’ birth or the annunciation or Mary’s response to the angel’s startling proclamation or Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Rather, it is part of Jesus’ speech about the signs of the end of the age, when we will see “ ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). The church’s choice of this passage speaks to me of the larger significance of Advent. Yes, it is a time of waiting and preparation leading up to Christmas—the celebration of Jesus’ birth in history—but ultimately we are not waiting for Christmas; we are waiting for Christ’s return.
In English, the word wait tends to imply passivity, maybe even boredom. But this is not the implication that Jesus would have had in mind when he spoke of his disciples waiting for his return. In Hebrew, the word for wait is also the word for hope. (Thus translators can render “Wait for the Lord” as “Hope in the Lord” with equal accuracy.) This linguistic equation of wait with hope means that, for Jesus, immersed as he was in the language of the Hebrew Bible, there is no conceptual differentiation between waiting and hoping. They are one and the same activity. This melding is especially apropos during Advent, when we wait in hopeful expectation for the return of Christ. Henri Nouwen calls this “active waiting.”
Active waiting is not about doing lots of things. I, for instance, did lots of things before Jack was born. I had the active part nailed. But I was not waiting. I was so eager not to be pregnant anymore that I rushed around on needless errands designed to pass the time and to distract me from my need for reflection and true preparation. In contrast, Nouwen says, “Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment.”
I am learning to rest in the Lord even when I don’t sleep well, or when my body doesn’t feel well. I practice being still physically, and also in my soul. I pray, without ceasing some days if I’m lucky. I read something nourishing—good books, and favorite passages in Isaiah or the Psalms. I eat something nourishing, which reminds me that the people in my life and in my path crave nourishment from my words, from my smile, from my hands. Lord, help me to nourish others, I pray.
5. Speaking of The Curator, Dave Fuller offers a list there of Thoughts & Texts to Accompany Your Advent. Most if not all are short enough to tweet; his sources include the Beatles.
Advent is a time of getting ready for SO DANG MANY THINGS (see list above), the best of us are still flying by the seat our pants when the Overwhelming Dose of power, justice, and love whops us upside the head (if He/She/It ever does). Still. Still. Still. We have a season to get ready. To listen to the words of the prophets. To consider the ministry of the wild holy Baptist (John, not Frank the guy from Shreveport). To be quiet and wait. And to be loud and busy. Because waiting to get the big Christmas . . . gift might (and probably should) get us thinking about what the heck we should be doing so that the world is a little more or even a lot more Christmassy for the anxious, lonely, confused people all around us.
9. If “Ben” says “People Get Ready” is an Advent song, that’s good enough for me. Let’s make this a multimedia list. Sing us out, Eva Cassidy.
Daylilies is an occasional column of observations on, and thanks for, the gifts of each day. Right now it’s also a (theoretically) daily Advent blog.