Perhaps just like you, I find myself somewhere between the heady rush of the season’s good tidings and the weighty counterpoint of “reality”. How does one navigate the “Christmas season” while admitting that it’s a difficult time for people, whether feeling the impact of a lingering down economy or when you or another loved one find it a tough time of year to “fit in” when our culture kicks into “red/green overdrive” with its love of radio stations playing 24-hour Christmas music and seasonal festivities abound?
How do we make it through all of the good and the not-so good? How about a good dose of Advent?
The British writer Margaret Hebblethwaite offers a helpful word. She writes,
I have a friend who says that Advent is his favorite season. Why? I think because Advent is a time of exquisite balance between the sadness of the mess we live in and the bliss of the world we would like to live in. (As quoted in Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, eds. Resources for Preaching and Worship, Year B, W/JKP, 2002, p. 1)
Often, even long-time churchgoers find Advent a curious season, thanks in part to the changes brought by cultural and economic forces that reshape what “Christmas” is all about. In our culture, “Christmas” becomes shorthand for the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, yet the Church holds a different, and far more ancient practice to be authoritative. It’s one of rituals and readings, prayers and proclamation that speaks and looks decidedly different when compared to its commercialized version.
For Christians, we get out some candles with specific colors you don’t see in church the rest of the year. (Ever wonder why it’s “three purple and one pink”? Come and join us on the third Sunday of Advent when we light the “rose-colored” candle and we talk a lot about “joy”.) We read scriptures usually not associated with “a child is born in Bethlehem”, as the ancient practices tell us to watch for Jesus’ return in glory as well as his arrival in the manger. We sing Advent hymns, only starting the more familiar “Christmas carols” close to time, as we are encouraged to sing of waiting and watching.
Again, Margaret Hebblethwaite shares,
Advent is when we acknowledge that bliss is not the blotting out of pain with [syrupy tradition], but a process, a pilgrimage, a pregnancy, and—admidst the chaos of the world’s governing—a cry for the coming of the reign of God.
And along the way, if we let these odd rituals, scripture passages and “three purple and one rose” colored candles kindle their message within us, Advent begins to reshape the way we look at this season, providing us with a little perspective, one able to let the “exquisite balance” of living in a world we know to be messy counter with something we can really rally around, an abiding hope and the promise of our faith that God shall make all things well.
The message we receive is one that speaks not only to the story of a Child to be born in Bethlehem. The Advent season dares to reach within us, bringing the light of the season into the sad and frustrated places within our hearts in ways not quite touched by the latest Christmas single playing on the radio. As we will sing in worship in a few short weeks, the old hymn revels in the call: "Let every heart prepare Him room".