[This is my church newsletter column for this week.]
This Sunday is the first Sunday of the season of Advent. The word “Advent” means “arrival” or “coming”; during the four weeks of Advent we anticipate the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the second coming of Christ in glory, and the continuing and new ways that Jesus will choose to come to us right here and right now. Advent, then, is about watching and waiting; it is about trusting and hoping; it is about looking and listening.
I want to encourage you and your family to give special attention to the observance of Advent. I do so for several reasons.
First, Advent is a particularly Christian observance. You are likely thinking, “Now, wait a minute—Christmas is a Christian holy day.” Of course it is. But Christmas has also been co-opted by the culture at large so that for many people the secular and commercial aspects of it are much more important than the religious aspects; as Donald Heinz observed, “Christmas without religion is now more imaginable than Christmas without shopping” [Christmas: Festival of Incarnation(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010), p. x]. It is not surprising that such is the case for non-Christians but it is rather shocking that it appears to be true for many professed followers of Christ.
Advent is different. There are no secular Advent carols; there are no Advent presents; there are no Advent sales; there is no countdown of shopping days until Advent; there are no Advent television shows or movies. If we choose to focus on Advent, nothing competes directly for our attention because only followers of Christ pay any attention at all to Advent. Advent, then, gives us a means to give appropriate focus to Jesus in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Second, Advent encourages an alternative to pre-Christmas frenzy. One of the reasons that the observance of Advent runs so counter to the flow of our culture is that it is all about waiting, an activity at which our society is not practiced and that it thus does not embrace. Our Christmas practices, fueled by unrealistic expectations and by barely bridled materialism, lead us to approach Christmas at a frenetic pace that results in exhaustion and disappointment.
The observance of Advent, on the other hand, reminds us that life is not finally about what we do but about what God has done, will do, and is doing. It trains us to wait and to watch, to always be on the lookout for how God is acting. Advent keeps our focus on the grace, mercy, and love of God and thus teaches us to remember to trust in God. Very importantly, Advent slows us down and teaches us to pay attention.
So during this Advent season I hope and trust that you and your family will participate in Advent worship and will spend some time at home each day reflecting on our coming Savior.
Let’s slow down. Let’s wait. Let’s watch. Let’s listen…