Advent is upon us! Perhaps you were not aware that the church has a season dedicated to waiting? Well it does and it is here!
The church calendar is different from the Roman calendar that begins with January because it follows the life of Christ. Here’s the logic: If Church = Body of Christ, then the Body of Christ orders the life of the Church. And what does Christ begin with? Birth. Well, pre-birth to be exact. The new church year begins with four whole weeks of preparation and expectation beginning this year on November 30.
It’s a small distinction, the difference between Advent and Christmas, but it’s an important one. No surprise though that as a pastor of a church, the common refrain I hear right after Thanksgiving is, "When can we sing Christmas songs?"
My impulse is to say: “Well, I don't know, friend. Are you ready to receive the one and only that God is sending our way? Are you ready to make room for Christ, even when he comes in the form of a homeless child, a teenager in recovery, and an older adult who's more confused than he is "with it"?”
Time for weeding
Anticipating some great eye rolling, I refrain from asking these questions…at least asking them out loud. Advent gives us the space to prepare for that something wonderful that God sends our way – not just at Christmas, but every day – if we only have eyes to see it. To use agricultural imagery, a technique employed often by Jesus, we need time to weed out the pessimism and turn the soil of our hearts with hope. We need time to dig out the pebbles and stones of consumerism so we can plant seeds of simplicity and joy. In short, we’ve got work to do.
This, however, is what makes possible a full celebration of Christmas. It is necessary work that can feel a little less cheery, but do not doubt that it is any less holy or cause for celebration than the big event of Christmas itself.
Here’s the thing: Christmas songs are proclamations – eruptions of joy signaling the end of prolonged waiting. The reason our church calendar forces us to wait (sometimes against our will) is because we need time to prepare. And in this culture, that’s not such an easy thing. Just as an expectant child takes a deep pause to gather up all their strength and breath to blow out their birthday candles, we too, pause to gather up what is necessary to celebrate.
Christ at home
"Christ asks for a home in your soul, where he can be at rest with you, where he can talk easily to you, where you and he, alone together, can laugh and be silent and be delighted with one another. All this may seem daring, but it is true; it is the meaning of the Incarnation.*"
Christ is incarnate – takes on flesh – every day and we are asked to first recognize and then house the living Christ. The truth is we might never be ready for the times Christ shows up in the form of a broken, wounded, vulnerable soul, but that’s why we need time to prepare. Advent is the waiting and preparing, the purging and cleaning house necessary to host the One God sends who desperately wants to stay with us.
So, how are you making room?
*Caryll Houselander from "A Child in Winter"
Contributed by Rev. Shalom Agtarap