Chapters 9 & 10: Let’s start at the very beginning…

By Andrea Tisher

Advent. The beginning of the liturgical calendar. The darkness into which the light will dawn. The waiting. The anticipation.

But it’s more complicated than that. It’s a time of other-ness. It’s the counter-season to the commercial Christmas that starts right after Halloween (oh, for American Thanksgiving that would give us one more holiday to hold out for before switching over to Christmas…).

Chittister goes so far as to say that the liturgical calendar helps us to plumb the depths of human experience, and that Advent starts with the basic and essential dimention of human life – waiting. She writes that Advent “teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious…Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.” (59)

And waiting does seem to me to be an essential part of the human experience. Life can be painfully slow at times, particularly as we wait for growth. Other people take FOREVER to change. And then we compare the pace they take with our own and realize that change in our own hearts is positively glacial. Waiting will turn out to be a necessary discipline.

But what are we waiting FOR? Surely it’s more than a chance to open all those presents amassing under the tree, or to feast with family and friends that we may or may not be excited to see. Advent reminds us of the big picture – of the three comings as Joan rightly points out. The coming in the past – the birth. The coming in the present – God’s presence in Word, Table and Community. And the coming in the future – the parousia or ‘arrival’, the time when the Kingdom of God will finally come into its fullness (from Chapter 10). The function of Advent then is not simply preparation or anticipation of the birth of Christ, but of the WHOLE story. Of the whole calendar. Of the whole of history. As Chittister writes, “Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life?” And I can’t think of a better time in our culture to re-adjust our perspective on the big picture.

How has your participation in Advent helped to ready you not just for Christmas, but for the coming of God into your present life, and for re-aligning that life to the reality of a Kingdom that is here already but not yet in full?

9 Comments

  1. Thanks again, Andrea, for your pithy wisdom and searching questions! I love the way you (or is this Chittister?) describe Advent as a time of “other-ness”. Celebrating this year in my new ‘home’ church (a building 700 years old) I was struck by the almost dream-like, other-worldly feel to our Advent services. Evensong especially is celebrated in a church shrouded in night-time darkness, lit only from within by soft candles and other lights that keep the roof spaces hidden in shadow.

    As usual, though, I enjoyed Advent more than Christmas.
    Perhaps because it’s far longer (4 weeks versus a few days, in the case of a modern Western Christmas). In Advent we get to take time to tell and re-tell the story, our story, many times over and from multiple angles, while the Christmas story often gets left hanging, as an odd historical event without grounding or present application.
    Perhaps because in waiting there is no possibility of anti-climax, of hopes unfulfilled (as is the case in many of our Christmasses).
    Perhaps because I entered this season knowing fewer Advent hymns than Christmas ones, and I like learning the older, richer songs used here.
    Or perhaps because the actual arrival of the Christ scares me more than I like to admit. I always have preferred anticipation to experience, and His coming is much easier to talk about than be ready for…

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  2. This Advent, our church sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” over and over again. Each week we added a verse – but never the chorus. As we lit the first candle: “O come O come Emmanuel.” As we lit the second candle: “O come Thou Dayspring.” As we lit the third candle: “O come, Thou Wisdom.” As we lit the fourth candle: “O come, Desire of nations.”

    My congregation can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not sure they even felt the anticipation building – until we celebrated together on Christmas Eve. We lit every candle and, as the Christ candle was lit, we burst, for the first time, into “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to you O Israel.” We had to sing it three times before we were satisfied. It was the waiting – and the fact that we identified WHO we were waiting for – that made the rejoicing so visceral.

    Maybe not everyone felt this way – but for me, at least, this preparation assisted in readying me (as you say, Andrea) not just for Christmas, but for the coming of God into my present life. As Chittister phrases it: “It is waiting that attunes us to the invisible in a highly material world” (p. 61).

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  3. Ian, I would be interested in exploring this further: “Or perhaps because the actual arrival of the Christ scares me more than I like to admit. I always have preferred anticipation to experience, and His coming is much easier to talk about than be ready for…”

    I think I know what you’re getting at. I understand that Easter is the pinnacle of the Christian year – but there is something very frightening (amazing) that happens at Christmas. It’s that “God drawing near” part. Too often the “scary” gets trumped by the “sweet” when we tell the Christmas story. More on that next week?

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  4. I love hearing how these ideas work themselves out in other contexts.

    We used the lighting of the Advent Candle as our ‘call to worship’ each week during Advent. We sang a short refrain of “Prepare the Way of the Lord” which gradually added complexity in a round. (First time, we just sang it all together, and by the fourth Sunday we were in three parts!) The readings came from Isaiah each week (we didn’t follow the lectionary this time, but chose passages that went with the rest of the service). And then the text would give direction to the starting point… I thought it worked, partly because our congregation knows to expect content in a call to worship and so even though it sometimes came from a family with cute children, they didn’t get stuck on the “this is where the ___ family comes up and blah blah blah and lights a candle…” Also, I think it was more meaningful for the families involved as they, too, knew what their role was in the service.

    We decided to focus on the Annunciation and Magnificat throughout Advent and so it shifted the focus a little and forced us to be ‘in Mary’s shoes’ which aided in our experience of both the waiting and the saying yes to God.

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  5. Andrea, I so appreciate hearing what you did at First Baptist. I always feel inspired to greater creativity when I’m around you. I would be interested to hear your plans for other parts of the year as well. Ah, I wish we lived in the same city again!

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  6. Andrea… sorry for the late reply…. I am embarrassed to say that I have always thought that Advent was the same as Christmas. But this year it was so different. The first reading of Advent surprised me… “This is not Christmas!” was my first thought. I have so savored the whole season of Advent this year. Christmas became part of something … of lament and darkness and waiting and a promise fulfilled. Christmas shrunk but became brighter and more joyful,,,not just a huge, tiring obstacle course that had to be maneuvered to get to the next year.

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