Figuring Out Advent

By Luci Bell

I’m still trying to figure Advent out. Advent used to be a lovely-sounding, high-churchy business practiced by people who went to churches other than mine. Then, suddenly, everyone around me was talking about it as though I should know what it meant.

My Advent gateway was through my kids, as so many of my faith steps are these days. I wanted to help them connect the Christmas season with Jesus, with hope and light and anticipation of something deeper and sweeter than a stack of presents and too many gummy bears. I wanted them to see that it’s all integrated all the time, that their faith practice can be a messy but delicious one-pot-meal rather than a compartmentalized bento box, where spiritual things are clearly defined and the foods don’t touch. That God, Christ, and Spirit are wonderfully, mysteriously in the fabric of our year, and the seasons themselves whisper things to us in languages we know and feel but can’t easily describe.

That’s the real draw of Advent, for me. It’s a sort of spiritual onomatopoeia, a practice that feels like the season it is. The days grow shorter and the new dark absolutely changes everything. The air is cooler, the smell of wood burning triggers a very specific nostalgia, and things are in turn cozy and exhilarating and soft and cold and bittersweet and dead.  It’s wonderful and wistful, which is an apt description of Advent.  Come, Jesus, as baby and as Lord, because we ache and yearn and we believe you’re the very best there is.

Maybe you don’t have emotional or calendar space to practice Advent this year, or you don’t know what the big deal is and feel left out of a spiritual social club.  That’s okay, because Advent is one practice in a gumbo of possible experiences – it certainly isn’t a litmus test of faith or belonging. Maybe you’re excellent at it, and regularly post your social media photos of artfully arranged Advent readings and coffee cups #advent. Maybe you’re in the well-intentioned middle like me, buying your Advent book and preparing the kids’ activities even though you still need to watch Advent youtube tutorials and you totally know some days will get skipped. With or without a wreath or countdown, we’re all drawn by the very air to slow down and notice, to reflect and stand watch. Our world bears so much sadness and pain, countless overwhelmed and heartbroken people crying out for visceral deliverance. It’s a wonder any of us can breathe, life can be so hard, and it’s incredibly tempting to use our first-world privilege to comfort, distract, and carefully curate these festive days. Advent invites us to acknowledge the ache and quietly confess our need and allegiance to the One who heals the brokenhearted and binds their wounds, who wasn’t the king people expected but was exactly what they needed. He is still the very best.

Suggested resources and seasonal additions:

youtube.com – What is Advent Again?

Brian Eno’s Music for Airports

Sufjan Stevens’ O Holy Night

Truth in the Tinsel, an Advent Experience for Little Hands

Goodness and Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

Good-quality Vitamin D, for those of us who are literally affected by the dark.