Despite how many carols you hear on the radio or decorations you see popping up all over town, our Christian neighbors and friends are not yet in the Christmas season; they are in the season of Advent. While liturgical Christians, like Episcopalians, Lutherans and Catholics are most likely to celebrate Advent, more and more Christian congregations do acknowledge the season. However, with the centrality of consumer consumption and the commercial pressure for buying and selling in our larger culture, Advent has become the most neglected and bypassed time. We think of December as a frantic time, rather than a contemplative one. I don’t believe in the supposed war on Christmas, but I could be convinced that there’s a war on Advent.
At Advent, Christians wait patiently to fulfill the promise of Jesus’s birth. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” They are waiting for a birth, yes, and also waiting for a release from captivity. They are waiting for freedom. Traditionally, Advent centers on hope, preparation, joy and love, qualities encouraged and supported by many different traditions.
The theology of Advent fits nicely in the Northern Hemisphere where we experience darkness in December. Advent, unlike the Christmas season when we madly light lights everywhere, is a season of darkness and waiting, a time of uncertainty. There’s so much we wait and long for, so much to be uncertain about. Darkness is more than an absence of light. We notice that absence every day now, as the sunset comes nearer and nearer to five o’clock and we rise and prepare for the day in the early morning blackness. The time of darkness invites reflection. Darkness encourages reflection rather than activity, quiet rather than boisterousness. When it’s dark, and especially if you add cold to that, we’re less likely to venture out, preferring to snuggle and nest at home. A Pagan friend of mine used to say that we’re supposed to follow the weather prompts and stay home in front of the fire and tell stories this time of year.
Whatever your own holiday traditions–whether you prefer staying home nestled in with family, or being out and about with the Christmas bustle–I hope you find a moment of two to stop and contemplate the darkness and what it offers you this year. What are you hoping for, as the seasons turn? What gift may come from waiting?
May your holiday season, however you celebrate or don’t, include joy and love, if not actual awe.