Several people have stopped me in the past week to talk about how quickly the Advent season is moving for them. Yesterday at church, one person commented that this is the fastest Advent season she can ever remember. It is hard to believe! It is almost as if one minute we’re diving into the first Sunday of Advent, and the next, we are staring Christmas right in the face. Is there anything we can do to make these last days of Advent more meaningful?
While searching for an answer to this question for myself, I read an article penned by Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren. The piece, Practicing Advent in a Time of Turbulence, while older has some points that I found pertinent for us at this particular time. She explains that Eastern and Western liturgical traditions both celebrate Advent, but our practices have a different focus. In Eastern Orthodox churches, Advent is a penitential season, actually a “little Lent.” In the West, we emphasize preparing for Christ’s coming. In Warren’s way of thinking, our time of preparation is at its best when it involves elements of repentance, rest, hope, longing and quiet. She believes that Advent holds in tension two seemingly paradoxical postures of faith: repentance and rest.
Repentance and rest? Definitely not two words I would use to describe the way I have been moving through this season. I admit to feeling some skepticism about Warren’s insights until she quoted from the prophet Isaiah, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” With those familiar words, I got it! At the heart of repentance is returning to God…exactly what John the Baptist called us to the first Sunday of Advent. When we return to the ways of God, there is a restfulness that settles into our hearts, minds and spirits. We know deep within that we have come home. Instead of being at odds, repentance and rest are actually intertwined in a beautiful way.
So, how can we move this truth from our heads to our hearts? Just like all other spiritual truths, we can practice what we believe. For us to savor these last days of Advent…for us to move into Christmas in ways that give life to ourselves and others…we can engage in acts of repentance. While this certainly does not sound festive, the fruit that it produces will ultimately increase our joy and our ability to help usher the things of God into this world…love, peace, joy, hope. When we come from a place of purity of spirit, we are certainly better equipped to live more fully into this season of waiting and watching. Well, how about that? Here we are in Advent realizing that a gift from the season of Lent holds a key for us.
If we choose to add the practice of repentance to our Advent schedule, we will need to intentionally search out the things within our hearts that need change. We will need to open up some time and space in our lives to contemplate where we are not as close to God as we would like to be…where we are not as close to our neighbors as God calls us to be. We will need to pray that God will gift us with the ability to see what we need to see and then move ahead in ways that bring reconciliation and love. I admit, even as I type these words, part of me wants to scrap this whole idea and move to something easier. But thinking back to the ways I have grown and seen others grow during past Lenten seasons, I know this is the way to go for those who desire to be ready for the Christ.
As we notice and then change the ways we have added to darkness instead of being part of the light, we can celebrate that we are helping to move these days of Advent into their glorious culmination on Christmas Eve night. May the peace of God be with you as you journey through these final days of preparation.
Blessing and Love, LuAnn