“Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God.” -Isaiah 40:1
Advent has always been the more difficult preparatory season of the church year for me to be present in. Maybe it's the fact that it is shorter than Lent and squeezed right between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe it's because our culture starts Christmas sales and movie marathons so early, barely waiting till the Thanksgiving leftovers have been put into the fridge. Or maybe it's because unlike Lent and Easter Advent and Christmas don’t have a horrific act, like Jesus' crucifixion, as a bridge between the seasons and so it’s easier to rush right to the joy of the newborn baby. Regardless of why Advent might be a difficult season to give ourselves over to the rhythm of waiting and preparation I think the season has a lot to offer and teach us.
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons of Advent for our day and age is that of slowing down. The slowing down of Advent corresponds nicely with the darkening days of winter. Before electric lights, round the clock news, and next day delivery with Amazon the darkening days of winter meant spending more time inside at home. Our technological innovations have led us towards the instantaneous nature of our life these days. We can order something online and have it on the doorstep in a matter of days if not hours. The (perhaps instinctual) winter rhythm of slowing down has been watered down by the increased productivity provided by technological innovation.
The primary practice of Advent is the lighting of the Advent wreath, with its colorful candles and slow growing light. The wreath and the practice of lighting it serves as the perfect symbol for how Advent can help us slow down. The Wreath has a total of 5 candles, four for each week of Advent and one for Christmas. As we light the candles, lighting only one new candle each week, we are invited to slowly consider what the coming of Christ means for us. (Hope, Peace, Joy, Love) With each week we countdown the days till Christmas, slowly bringing us to the Christ child, but also helping teach us how to slow down more generally.
Another aspect of the wreath that helps us to slow down is the simplicity of it. The average Advent Wreath is not complicated. You have the wreath of greens in which are set 5 candles. While the colors of the candles vary based on tradition the number remains the same. These simple elements help teach us to slow down in that they provide less distraction, a “clean slate” so to speak.
Lastly, the waiting of Advent and the slow progression of the wreath lighting help communicate to us that Christ comes in God’s own time, whether that is his first coming at his birth or his second coming at the Last Judgment. This reminds us that most of what happens in life happens outside of our control, even with our technological innovations. Having a busy and packed schedule doesn’t put things anymore in our control that slowing down does.
May you find the time this Advent to slow down in any way that you need. May your slowing down be a moment, a morning, a day, whatever you can do. May you remember that Christ comes in God’s own time, but does in fact come, what good news! May the growing light of the Advent wreath be a symbol of the growing light of Christ in each of us and in our church.
Grace and Peace,
Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser. -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin