Sometimes I think we can miss Advent and I have, at times, missed it both within Catholicism and more lately within my current church family at Vineyard. It is very easy to get lost in the midst of the madness, but God has given us this time not to just remember, but to lean into something new.
Advent brings to my mind the many badly rehearsed, but somehow entertaining, nativity plays. I can also almost smell the incense from mass, see the many lit candles and the brightly-adorned priests. My current church doesn’t have this, which is neither a good or bad thing. It’s just different – I do now get to engage in joyful worship and joyful community; and there are still some candles.
God has given us this time to learn and once again be intentionally present with the Holy Spirit as Jesus was physically present on earth when he was born a man. We also have this time to look forward to when Jesus will come again. We can have confidence in him coming again partly because we know he has already done so.
There is a time for focusing on different parts of Jesus’ life, crucially his death and resurrection, but surely we are missing out on something if we don’t take time to focus on the miracle and mystery of Christ’s birth. In solemnity and awe looking to the God who, knowing the consequences, was born into this world.
Take a moment and think about that.
Jesus came to earth; became man; spoke, loved and bled.
Stop and think about Jesus being present here.
That is Advent. That is the joy of the seasons.
We can enter into advent in numerous ways. We can run into it crying ‘the kingdom of God is at hand’ or we can float through it letting Christmas Eve take us by surprise. Growing up, it always felt like such a long time. Such a long wait. From that first Sunday of Advent when I walked into mass and saw the first candle on the Advent wreath lit up. It would be four more weeks until the bigger white candle centred in the wreath would be alight and the excitement that had been slowly building reached its pinnacle.
The commercial aspect aside, for me, Advent was a special time. Mass was different. It was clearly building to something. School focused around the theme and my family talked about it. My mind was of course focused more on the presents and food to come, but the importance of the season wasn’t fully lost on me. The structure that I found to be normality for this time of year lead me to at least be aware of a change in rhythm.
Structure is good. It’s good to be intentional and set apart time for God. It’s good to recognise seasons or special times throughout the year, partly because it works to remind us of the many blessings and love God has for us, but also it’s how God works in our lives both corporately and individually. Experiencing Advent as a Catholic brought with it some negatives such as it was very easily treated as a duty or a monotonous chore to get out of the way to allow us to get on with Christmas.
There was, however, much benefit in having a clear change in gears. Slowing down and with others preparing for the arrival of someone honours the one who comes. It gives time to appreciate the arrival. In this case it gives us time to think on the moment when everything changed. God became man and from that point moved into a life of mission, knowing His calling and with His identity firmly rooted as God’s son.
We – and especially I – should recognise that our God is ultimately a God of order and not chaos and complementary to that He is a God of strength and power. My upbringing has given me a great belief in the goodness of structure; teaching me to be patient as God is patient, and my present community are showing me how to be more free in God’s presence; teaching me to be fierce as God is fierce. Both are vital. Both are life giving. Both are from and for God.
Let us be fierce in our waiting this Advent.