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?