Today begins the season of Advent, as season that has all but been forgotten by the world. In our rush to but the latest gadget we go right from Thanksgiving to Christmas without that intentional stop in Advent. It is like skipping Lent and going right to Easter! Advent is that time of expectation, of waiting, of patience. We know what is coming, and we want to get right to it, but we have to slow down, pause, take a breath, and wait.
In the Eastern Church, Advent is a penitential season and if often called Christians Lent. Orthodox Christians are supposed to fast during this time, not as strict as during Lent, but there is a giving up during this period. It is a time of preparation and looking at one’s life and checking in to see if we have come off the road a little and what we need to do to get back on. In Western Christianity there are remnants of that. The liturgical colors change from the usual green to purple, but not for penance but an announcement of the royalty of the coming Christ. Purple is a regal color reserved for kings!
We get so busy during this preparation time with shopping for more junk that we think shows others how much we love them, to parties and all of the other stuff that we jam into this time of year. With all of this noise going on around us we lose sight of the waiting, of the slowing down, of the patience that this time of year is supposed to bring upon us.
Recently I was having a conversation with someone and they mentioned how we were now in the Christmas Season. I tried to hide my wonder when I said that we were not in the Christmas season but in fact we were in the Season of Advent that the Christmas season did not begin until December 24th. Expectation, waiting, patience we miss all of this if we skip right to the end of the story and then throw the tree out on the sidewalk on Christmas night!
Since the time of Jesus there has been speculation on when He would return. His closest followers believed that it would happen in their life time, not here we are some two-thousand years later still waiting and there are still people trying to predict when it will happen.
In the passage selected for this First Sunday of Advent, from the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus speaks to his followers about expectation and signs. He speaks of the fig tree and how one knows that summer is coming when the buds appear. Here in New England we know the seasons by the change in the leaves on the trees and temperature.
But the passage goes on to teach us about preparation and that we should not get caught up in the things of this world and not concern ourselves with the things of the next. Jesus tells his followers not to be weighed down with the cares of this life and tells us to watch and pray that we will be ready. Advent is a time for that watching and praying. Just as we clean our house and prepare food when gusts are coming, we need to prepare room in our hearts for Jesus and allow him to come in and transform our lives just as he came into the world to transform it.
In Jesus day they were waiting for the Messiah to come, a military leader that would come and release them from their bondage and captivity. The Prophets had spoken of this and they continued to wait. Jesus came, not as a general, but as a tiny baby born to humble parents, with no place to lay his head except a feeding trough in a barn. This small child, born with nothing to call his own, this tiny child who formed the world out of nothing, only asks for a little room to help change your life. He did come to free them from their bondage but not earthly bondage but spiritual bondage. The hope and expectation of Advent is just that, that we will make room in our busy schedules in our days filled with shopping and parties, that we will make time and make room for him in our lives.
Much has been made of “keeping Christi in Christmas” and how there is a war on Christmas because the cashier at the local store says happy holidays rather than Merry Christmas and how some private corporation, whose sole existence is to make money, took trees off of their cups. The real war on Christmas is that we do not make time for Christ. We do not take time to read his words and meditate on them. We are so upset that there is no manger on the town common but we do not take time to meditate on what it truly means. The real war on Christmas is that we forget, we do not wait, we do not pause, we run right over Advent and rush Christmas. That is the real war.
Take the time, serious time, to slow down during Advent and wait in hope, hope that you will make room in your hearts and in your lives for Jesus to come in, and hope that when he does, you will let him change you. You will be glad you did.