What is Advent?

cancer-waiting-Room-hospital-design-University-of-colorado-hospitalI want you to think about the experience of waiting for a minute. Let’s take the example of going to the doctor and trying to get some answers to what is wrong with you. Typically, you call and make an appointment, which you will have to wait a day or two for. Then you go to the doctor and you sit in the waiting room.

If you are like me, you never go to the doctor without an iPad. I don’t like to just sit and stare at all the other sickos. I want to do something. And if it is that kind of doctor’s appointment, I want something to distract me from the reason I am there.

Then they take you back to another room where you wait some more. After seeing the doctor, they may schedule a test, which you have to wait to take. Or perhaps you do the test there, and then you have to wait for the results. Especially if the results are life threatening, those days in between can feel endless. We want answers and we want them now. We want to tackle the problem straight on, we want to be able to solve and fix whatever it is we are facing.

But most of this process is simply: “Hurry up and wait.”

If fact, there is a lot more waiting in life than we would want. We like to solve, fix, act, do, move, work, progress, accomplish…waiting just slows us down. When we have to wait, we try to distract ourselves in any way we can. Or maybe we just put everything on hold until we have answers.

But Advent is a season of waiting. Advent asks the question: What if true hope, peace, and joy could be found in the waiting?

Advent stands in stark contrast to the 21st century experience of Christmas as well. Christmas is often no “hurry up and wait” but just “hurry!” We run around like crazy people scheduling parties, family get togethers, shopping, wrapping, hiding, opening, giving, stressing….it can feel insane. We hurry through the end of November and the month of December.

Advent is a time when we learn how to stop the hurry.

Advent is the time when we learn to wait.

We have been writing through Advent on this blog for a long time. But we thought it might be good to revisit what Advent is before we start back to a regular writing rhythm next week. So this post is simply an explanation of Advent, and how it orients us to the things which are really important during the holiday season.

Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus” which means “coming” or “visit.” It is the four Sundays before Christmas where we spend time reflecting on the coming of Christ in the Christmas story. It is a tradition which Christians have been doing for hundreds and hundreds of years, and it is the beginning of the Church calendar.

But in Advent when are not simply focusing on what the presence of Jesus in the world, we are preparing for the arrival of Jesus. We enter into the narrative of those who were expecting the Messiah’s birth. And as we do this, we also reflect on the second coming of Christ, the next “Advent.”

In some traditions, like Eastern Orthodox, Advent is a fast like Lent. But most Advent celebrations speak to a time of waiting, anticipation, and preparation.

Advent-CandlesTraditionally, Advent has aesthetic elements too: A wreath with five candles – three purple candles for hope, peace, and love; a pink candle for joy; and a white “Christ” candle. Each week we light a candle and reflect on one of these themes, culminating in the coming of Christ on Christmas.

Hope, peace, love, and joy define the season of Advent. But they are all viewed alongside waiting. What does it look like to have hope when we sit with unanswered questions? What does it means to have peace without resolution? What does it mean to love even when I have no assurances?

What we find in Advent, is often the true joy is in waiting. When we wait, we are preparing for God to break into our circumstances. We prepare our hearts for God like we would prepare our house for a guest. We begin to invite God into our daily and often mundane existence. We invite God into the hurts and questions we have and we anticipate for when all hurts and wrongs are righted.

When we wait we have more questions than answers, and we often have nothing else to do but sit and be still. We reflect on the things that are important. We don’t let as much distract us and we open ourselves even more to God.

Waiting gives us time to reflect and to “plumb the depths of the human experience.” It is not about knowing exactly what is coming next, but knowing God is here and working and moving. Waiting is not about holding on just long enough so we can escape life, waiting is about finding God right where we are. It gives us more clarity. It requires us to stop, reflect, and open our eyes to how God is working. It teaches us to see the things that are lying right under the surface.

Join us as we enter in to this time of waiting as we anticipate the birth of Christ in Advent.

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