Advent! It’s the New Year’s Day of the Church calendar. The liturgical year’s springtime, a season during which light gradually overtakes darkness and hope overcomes wintry despair.
It starts with a whisper, like Gabriel speaking quietly to a young Palestinian girl. The Spirit assures us that what we see and know presently isn’t the whole story. There’s more. Incredible conversations with incalculable effects. After a long period in which God seems both silent and inactive, there’s a subtle shift.
In the liturgical tradition, the time between Pentecost and Advent is “Ordinary Time.” The green period. The décor gets monotonous with only green altar linens and clerical vestments week after week. For nearly six months we show up and go through the motions without a single, jubilant celebration to quench our thirst for variety. Homilies center on duty and obligation. Hymns, at least in the Episcopal Church, are the one-hit wonders from the 16th Century vault. It’s like being in the third grade going through multiplication table drills, or living on a diet of grade school cafeteria meatloaf with peas and carrots. Necessary for the mind and good for the body, but uninspired.
By the time All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days arrive at the first of November, I’m starting my own season of advent for Advent. Where’s that treasured stone Advent wreath found at the Washington National Cathedral? Do I have pink and purple tapers? Are new ones needed? Where are favored books for the season, like theologian Raymond Brown’s A Coming Christ in Advent or The Birth of the Messiah, of Phyllis Tickle’s Christmastide?
A Different Sort of Advent
This year is different. There is no Advent wreath. No pink and purple candles. No cherished books. All of that is packed up and inaccessible. This year, participating in Advent means that most afternoons I walk the loop at Denver’s Washington Park while listening to English Church Music, anticipating the Great Light’s return, patiently awaiting the Hope-giver’s arrival.
Advent is about active waiting, productive patience. Change is just around the corner. The joyous exuberance of Christmastide is coming.
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” Romans 13:11-12 (Epistle reading for the First Sunday in Advent.)