Advent was not a season that I recognized growing up. I was part of a conservative evangelical tradition that, for one reason or another, eschewed the liturgical calendar. As I’ve aged and (hopefully) matured I’ve come to appreciate more of the rhythm and cadence of the church calendar, although I’ve had to grow into it and submit myself to its influence.
I had to learn that during Advent we remember the first coming of Jesus even as we anticipate His second coming, all while living expectantly as we embrace where Jesus comes to us in the commonness of our everyday lives. it is meant to be a time for self-reflection and preparation. This reflective, expectant, preparatory time is contrasted against the pace of the rest of society.
Canadians are about to enter into one of the busiest, most frenzied, hectic and exhausting seasons of the year. One study showed that we are about to enter a time where fatigue, stress and irritability are about to increase. Such is the fruit of a holiday season that has been commercialized, materialized and hyped-up by media, all while having been sanitized of anything associated with the birth of Jesus.
This minimalizing of Christ’s birth has created more than a fair share of consternation in some as they cringe inwardly whenever someone wishes them a “Happy Holiday” rather than a “Merry Christmas.” So, to capitalize on the season of Christ’s birth and share their faith with friends and neighbours they prepare their lawns with “Jesus is the reason for the season” signs. In our church gatherings we sing about “Peace on Earth” even while churches add multiple rehearsals for a living Christmas tree production adding to the business. Sermons are preached against materialism and consumerism, even while we encourage people to fill shoe boxes with dollar store toys. When I stand back it all seems just to add to the noise and clutter of the chaos.
But the church is meant to be a witness to the world. We are to show a different way of being, we are meant to live out of a life rooted in Christ and so, while the rest of the world is getting wound up for mayhem, we are meant to offer a different way of being. One where we slow down to reflect and take inventory and consider, “What if Jesus came a second time this Christmas season? How would I want to be found living my life?” Advent is meant to be a pause at the end of the year to consider what kind of life we have been living and what kind of life we want to live.
What if our witness need not be that noisy? I believe that the kind of quieted, self-reflective life that Advent encourages, especially during this season, would actually be a very compelling type of life and witness to those who observe us. It is as people see us living differently, not marching to the drum of culture but rather following the lead of God’s Spirit, that the true Christmas Spirit is seen and felt. Such is the meaning and purpose of Advent.