Every Christmas-countdown calendar, every new Christmas product on the shelf, every Christmas catalogue mocks my lack of preparation and fills me with an ever-growing sense dread about what I still need to do before Christmas.
In the popular imagination and the life of the church, Christmas is the pinnacle as the year comes to an end. It increasingly dominates our thoughts and conversation as December goes along.
Into this lobs the season of Advent, the New Year of the church.
One of the functions of the liturgical calendar is to shift our perspective of time. The liturgical calendar helps us to focus our sense of time around the life of Jesus Christ so that we might shape our life to reflect God’s way and God’s priorities.
Advent invites us to a season of waiting, slowing down, and keeping our eyes open. We slow down in order to see the many places God’s life is being born in us, in our world, and in the church. The stories of Advent show us the ways this happen and invite us to become participants in these stories.
The stories of Advent point us to God coming among us in the words and actions of the prophets who call us to love God by doing justice, seeking mercy and valuing kindness. The prophets remind us that if we want to keep our eyes open to God’s coming we should seek it in the places neglected by the world. God called a forgotten people to be his own and be a light bearing witness to God and God’s way. God continued to call his people to his way of justice through the prophets.
The prophets invite us to justice that slows us down enough to care for the vulnerable, the outcast and the outsider. God still comes to places and people that are broken, poor, and suffering. God’s reign is with us and still coming. Advent calls us to slow down enough to notice and to commit to joining with what he is already doing in the world.
John the Baptist goes out into the desert to seek God’s reign and invite others to join in. It is no accident that John goes to the desert. It is a place both empty but full of life. It exposes us, our frailties and hubris so that we can see more clearly God’s ways. There John calls for repentance, the radical reorienting of our lives to God’s vision of wholeness of life.
Advent invites us to slow down enough to pay attention to where God is calling us to turn from that which is bad and turn to towards goodness. We do this in the company of other Christians, searching Scripture and reading the world around us, eyes open to the ways of God. Together we discern what in our own life, the life of our church and the life of our nation needs to be scraped away and turned from, so that life can flourish and God is alive in our hearts.
Mary’s wholehearted ‘yes’ to bearing God in her body reminds us that birthing the life of God in us requires patient gestation. Advent invites us to open our lives up to God’s presence, to slow our lives down through prayer, worship and reflection so that we might pause long enough to test what is of God in our lives and what is not.
Slowing down in a thoughtful way helps us turn our hearts and our lives towards the things of God. Then we, like Mary, can say ‘Yes’ to God, to God’s presence with us and in us and ‘Yes’ to giving our lives to God’s way and God’s reign.
We do not know what tomorrow will bring, but the waiting of Advent trains us to trust that the reign of God is always unfolding, always with us, always inviting us to slow down enough to see what God is doing and where God is working. And then, with Holy impatience, we join with God to usher in the Advent of God’s reign.