This week we had a great listener question on the Podcast. Hannah W. asked,
"Why do we have to focus on waiting, expectation and hoping in Advent? How does one actually DO that in the midst of Final exams, preparing for the general ordination exams, CHRISTMAS madness, shopping, etc, ALL THE CHURCH STUFF GOING ON?!?!?! How in the world does one really keep a holy Advent? It’s INSANE and I have never been able to do it! Help!!!"
To Hannah's point, there is so much going on in this season of our lives. So much travelling, so many church events, and so many tasks to complete. This is a time in our year when we are often submitting final papers, finishing projects before going on vacation, and hurrying to complete all of the many important projects we have been engaged in for the last month or season or year.
The question, as Hannah posed it, is: How does one actually focus on waiting, expectation and preparation in the midst of all this? The answer is: not easily. This is the challenge of the season, but also the blessed invitation of it. We can remember, though, that it is just that, an invitation. It is not a requirement or an obligation. It can and will be only what we want it to be. And what Advent will be is directly tied to how we would like to practice it. Just as the angel Gabriel came to Mary with an invitation, so are we invited to a season of quiet preparation, hopeful expectation and prayerful waiting. Of course, we will not have four straight weeks of quiet, hopeful or silent anything. There will be stressful planning, frenzied finishing and frantic travelling. All things that Mary went through as well in the final weeks of her expecting, but it all started with something small, with an invitation, and a courageous "Yes."
Advent is not about doing some big grand thing like living in a monastery for a month. It is not about doing it well or right or wrong. It is about doing one small thing at a time. It is about being intentional in one small way each day, or each week, to help us remember that we are taking part in this great invitation along with Mary, the one who uttered that first small yes and look where it took her. It was a willingness to be open to what may come. We do not do the work of preparation ourselves any more than Mary did the work of growing a baby in her womb. What we do, following Mary's example, is engage in something that will open ourselves up to be prepared, to be a path though which God enters the world. Mary is our exemplar for advent practice. She says yes, remains present and open to the possibilities, and then, as someone expecting, lives into the quite hope of pregnancy that she shares with us and with all of creation.
So, what can your small practice be? What can your one word "yes" prayer look like in this season of Advent. Don't worry, we may be half-way through, but there is still time to wait, to be quiet, and be prepared. There are so many practices in the Christian tradition to choose from. It can be as simple as turning out all the lights and lighting your Advent candles every night leading up to Christmas Eve. In the darkness of your home, set up those four candles adding a new one each week. Each night light one, two, three or four depending on the week of Advent we are in. In the expectant darkness let this five or ten minutes of silent candle light wash over you.
Feel the peace present in the midst of the hustle bustle of the season swirling around you. Maybe take a few steps back and see if you can find that point where the light blends into the darkness. Maybe notice how welcoming both darkness and light can be, how they are not opposites, but partners in our season of expectation, preparation and growth. At this threshold of seeing and unseeing, speak softly your "yes." Maybe in one word, or with the words "O come o come Emanuel, come to thee." This is enough. This is the yes.
In just five or ten minutes we have become a little bit more open to the season, not in spite of the chaos, but in the midst of it, where darkness and light meet, where God prepares us to bear Christ into the world. How would you like to say "yes" in this season?
Here are a few resources that you may find helpful in finding your practice:
Ordinary Liturgy Meditations
Building Faith Practices for the Home
The Way of Love Advent Calendar of Practices
Leave your favorite Advent practice or resource in the comments below, and make sure to listen to this upcoming week's Faith To Go Podcast featuring Hannah's question, out this Sunday, December 16th.