By Mary Frances, FaithX Senior Consultant
Ever since the first Christmas in my first call, I have had the urge to downsize Christmas. The hustle, the bustle, the ever earlier decorating and store sales always feel like too much distraction from the reason for the season. And yet, the Church has, for centuries, had a built-in time of prayer and contemplation to counter the commercialization of Christmas. Advent, started in the middle ages and associated with the second coming of Christ, was more like Lent for Christmas. Fasting, prayer, and silence were hallmarks of this pre-Christmas season. The emphasis of Advent has shifted to a time of preparation for Christmas, a time of holy waiting for the Christ child. We wait to celebrate the birth of Christ; we also wait for all that is yet to come. When we jump past Advent to rush into Christmas, we skip over the invitation to look deep into the darkness of our world, of our lives, before we embrace the light.
It’s okay to admit it, there is a lot of darkness right now. Nothing is alright and nothing is easy. Sending our kids to school is fraught with danger, going to work can put you on the front lines as an essential worker, and to think of going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for the holidays is just about out of the question. Fights over mask wearing, racial tensions, protests, violence and counter violence. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died. We are not alright. So maybe what we really need right now as we look to the holidays is less Christmas and more Advent. We need to take time out to acknowledge the darkness that surrounds us, we need to look deep into the darkness and own our part in it. We need to grieve – the loss of loved ones, the changes in our world, the chaos and the confusion. Not for the first time in our history but definitely for this time in our history, we need space, we need silence, we need time to mourn before we take time to celebrate. What if we didn’t push it all aside for the sake of Christmas but instead we embraced it and reflected on it because of Christmas, because of the reason for the season, because God so loved the world…that he sent his son….for us.
What does it look like to truly practice Advent? Certainly, Advent will look different for each community but here are a few ideas to get you started:
Midweek Services: If your community doesn’t regularly gather for midweek worship during Advent, this year is a good time to start. Break into the routine of the week with silence. Allow time for lament. Turn to scripture and listen to the keening wails of the psalmist.
Community Devotions: Invite members of your community to write devotions reflecting on a time they came through darkness in their lives and how their faith supported them in that time. This is a wonderful way to help connect the often-silent generation with younger people. These can be published, sent via text or email, or shared during your midweek worship.
Advent Calendar: So often Advent calendars are more about Christmas and candy than about spiritual formation. Find a creative person in your congregation to create a shareable Advent calendar that teaches children about the faith-filled reasons we wait in darkness.
Advent Wreaths: When my kids were little, they always argued over who got to light the Advent wreath. But once the debate over lighting was over, there was an opportunity to talk about what the candles represented and why we needed this little bit of light at this time of the year. Provide supplies for making Advent wreaths and then have a wreath-making gathering via zoom.
Certainly, we ache for better days when we can celebrate Advent and Christmas in our buildings, with live nativities and choral concerts. But for now, let us take this time to look into the darkness assured in the knowledge that, with Christ, the darkness shall not overcome us.