Advent begins next Sunday, the start of a new year in Christian calendars. The word Advent comes from the Latin Adventus meaning coming. It is a season of waiting with anticipation for the coming of Christ and the incarnation, God made flesh, culminating in the season of Christmas.
In Advent we are invited to be present to the tension between all of the not-yets of this world and the signs of the Kingdom we see here and now represented in Emmanuel, meaning God-with-us. It is a tension between the promise we hope for and the glimmers of hope present at every turn. Advent is a season of holy waiting for the fulfillment of a Promise of peace, reconciliation, and healing. Advent is bracketed by a shopping season in which our culture offers its own promises through the purchases we make, usually of youth and beauty or sexual prowess. What is the promise we are waiting for? We live in a culture of instant gratifications, we are not encouraged to wait for anything.
I am not going to decry the culture though, as much as I hate the frenzy of Christmas shopping and consumerist values. Of course, we need a critical lens through which to view this spectacle. However, I am choosing to celebrate some of the valuable things I see. I am hopeful at the heart of the impulse that sends people out into wet and wintry nights to find ways to symbolize their love for others. There is a beautiful desire to share time and joy with loved ones which I honor. I have to believe behind the abundant display of lights everywhere is a deep-seated hope and longing for light at the heart of the world to guide us. Each year there is always talk about how the stores have hijacked Christmas, and yet I have never looked to those bastions of consumerism to tell me how to celebrate my holy feasts. We have a choice of who to listen to for guidance and about how to be present to this sacred time of waiting.
One of my favorite images for Advent is pregnancy and the promise of nurturing something new to birth. Mary, a poor young girl was offered a choice and she said "yes." My Advent discipline is to wake up to the new ways God is inviting me to give birth to Christ in our world and to say "yes" as fully as I can. I will also tend to all the ways my life says "no" and refuses to offer space for that birthing. Waiting requires patience and attentiveness. Birthing takes time, nine months to bring a life into fullness. Giving birth demands that we make space within us for God's holy surprise.
How will you pay attention in this season of waiting? What new thing are you birthing into the world? Will you say "yes"?
-Christine Valters Paintner