My own spiritual discipline has been to challenge myself each year with an expanded understanding of the traditionalholidays, while maintaining a sense of reverence, even sentimentality to a small degree. One of the great paradoxes of navigating the landscape of religious holidays, ceremonies and traditions is dancing with reverence AND relevance at the same time. How do I honor what has been, hold fast to what is sacred for me and my community, while also being relevant, asking myself what this holiday or faith tradition has to do with my world right now? How is it germane? And not in the obvious kind of way, where an answer immediately comes to mind, and I think “That’s it,” but in a way that invites me to pause, reflect, and go a little deeper.
So here I am again, before I even realize it, Advent is upon me… before I am even ready for it. Ironically, that’s the whole point of Advent – something NEW right at my doorstep, even though I’m not ready it. How many times have I said to myself on the onset of something new, “Wait, I’m not prepared for this!” Honestly though, am I ever REALLY ready? I’ve always talked about Advent as preparing for the new, waiting for the light that comes during the darkest time of the year. Advent always been about the myth of Christmas – yet we know the meaning Christmas is so much more than the birth of a baby 2,000 years ago.
And this year, it has never been more uncomfortable. I’m feeling pushed out of whatever comfort zone I thought I may have been in, which frankly wasn’t much of one. My world, individually and collectively, is marked with violence, hate, deconstruction, death, hopelessness and helplessness, all wrapped up in a pretty holiday bow of darkness and uncertainty. It has been a year of truth-telling as I have never seen in my lifetime.
Advent is a time for giving voice to our weariness, our frustrations and anxieties. It is also a time for giving voice to the possibilities opening in our future. But to give voice to one thing, means giving voice to all, and truth-telling comes with a price – great self-reflection, discomfort and the work of transformation. All that discomfort is not only the hallmark of the newness which awaits us, but the new world I am creating… that WE are creating.
We must tell the truth, and this can be painful, ugly and very messy. Even as I sit here typing away, I wonder how in the world I can talk about Advent, a season that historically is one filled with hope, peace, life and good cheer, while at the same time talking about all the discomfort and dark?
Oftentimes I believe we get stuck in what “newness” means. I’m not talking about new shoes, or a new pair if glasses or even a new pet. I’m referring to a new reality. That is, after all, the symbol of the birth of Jesus, the birth of a new paradigm, a new world – and it is through this lens that I talk about the dark, and believe we MUST talk about the messiness of the journey of newness. For years I have taught that our spiritual journey is to wake up, grow up, clean up and show up. There is no promise in there of it being easy or comfortable.
Advent is our time for getting ready for this new world. Look around you, if you don’t see a new world emerging, then you’ve missed something. As the evolutionary theologian Walter Brueggermann says, “Getting ready time is mainly abrasive … asking, thinking, pondering, and redeciding.” Remember, this time of getting ready is paradoxical. On one hand is the contemplative nature of reflection, asking ourselves “What do I hold with great reverence and sacredness?” While on the other hand, simultaneously holding the space for what we are doing, asking ourselves, “What is the relevant thing to do to bring forth the newness? Will it mean sacrificing what I hold dear?”
So here we are, the first Sunday of Advent, and we start our journey with waking up, seeing cycles and paradigms being broken, and in that brokenness wondering if life can be different. In order to have the prospect of a new life, there is a world of death – this is the part we don’t like, this is the hard part of Advent, the demanding piece of our work. For me, this is epitomized by the presence of John the Baptist. It’s how the Christmas story begins in the Gospel of Luke, John leaps onto the field, bigger than life, an unsavory character in some ways, unkempt, noisy, demanding and quite urgent. He is front and center baptizing people, letting them know that not only is someone else coming – he’s not the Messiah foretold in Isaiah – but he yells at whomever will listen that a new world is ALSO coming. Cycles and paradigms will be broken, yet we must never forget life always happens within a world of deconstruction and death. Even after he is arrested, he cannot be silence, his message endures – he is the abrasive nature of this season.
Advent is a time for getting ready for newness, and not in a cognitive way, but in a way that engages my whole being – body, mind and spirit. It’s about asking, thinking and pondering – the contemplative, reverent, part of my journey. It’s not a cognitive pursuit. Hearing the words of John the Baptist, that if we want to be immersed in the life, love, joy and abundance of God, then we must do as John says – share your worldly goods, give our coats and shoes, and enter into a consciousness of wisdom, compassion and generosity then turn our attention to what the world needs most – affirm that life can be different, beyond the shootings, racism, sexism, insanity and vitriol we witness everyday – but it NEEDS ME.
Brueggermann also says Advent is about redeciding, which means looking at the prophecy in the Book of Isaiah, that all-encompassing vision of the Messiah being born to heal the world, and moving it out of that grand vision into small, day-to-day activities and disciplines that will CREATE this newness that is coming. It is bringing that for which I most long, out of the clouds, out of the realm of ideas, and into the life I live each day. This is what makes this season relevant. It’s not about sitting back and waiting for something to arrive. Advent is a demanding piece of work on my part, it needs my outrageousness, my creativity, my generosity, my sweat equity.
On this first Sunday of Advent, consider the new that is coming. Take some time to discover what you are most missing in your life – and then give that thing away. Where you long for a friend to support you, instead be the friend who calls another to find out if they are well. When you long to know peace, instead be the non-anxious presence during times of tension. Where you long for community and connection, be the heartbeat of whatever group you are with. When you long to feel less afraid, be the hand that reaches out with generosity. When you long to know your presence here matters, be the gift of welcoming.
If you ever have a moment of doubt a new world is coming, that’s OK. Sometimes it can look overwhelming, surprises happen every time you turn on the news, or open your Facebook feed. At the very least, a new possibility is at hand simply because you are at hand, because you are alive, your are the image of the prospect of new life, a new world. Each day is your invitation to tell the truth, affirm that cycles can only be broken because we each choose to ponder and redecide, moving toward daily disciplines born out of the life-giving, love inherent in you and in all life. We must break into the settled and asleep parts of our lives, know the abrasive nature of this journey and be the restoration of our original goodness, this is the newness that awaits us.