Dear Members and Friends,
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.
-Frederick Buechner, 20th century
There seems to be an avoidance of Advent in our world today. Popular culture is quick to make transitions between seasons, and Christmas marketing began long before the church turns to Advent. The stores were decorated for Christmas and had Christmas goods on the shelves even before Halloween this year. And Christmas tree lots were full of trees the weekend before Thanksgiving! People don’t want to get ready; they want the celebration to begin. “Skip the Advent songs, let’s sing Christmas carols!”
Just listen to the messages that bombard us not only at Christmas but all through the year: from TV and radio and Internet advertising that tells us we can have it all, now, instantly – no waiting, no anticipation … overnight delivery (worth the extra charge! Or if a member of Amazon Prime you get free delivery and it arrives within a day!) We are promised immediate gratification of every want and every need. Peer pressure, social pressure, and our own internal pressure to get and to do and to have, all of it, and right now!
Doesn’t it wear us out? Of course it does. But it does more than that: it distracts us and helps us to forget the very thing we pray for each and every week when we gather for worship, or in our own personal prayer-time, in the words Jesus taught us, we pray “thy kingdom come” – let your righteousness and your justice and your mercy come and heal this world, and destroy the powers of evil, dismantle the machines of war … and let your shalom dawn over all the nations of the world.
Beyond the messaging, Advent itself, the weeks leading up to Christmas, just might be the busiest season of the year. With all the shopping, preparations, holiday parties and gatherings, extra worship events at church, on top of all the regular, daily demands – getting the kids to school, working, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, cooking meals, making sure the kids do their homework, etc., etc., etc.!
It would be a shame if the busy-ness obscured the beauty of anticipation which is Advent. As Buechner reminds us, the season of Advent itself is its own moment and holds its own beauty and gifts. These are not just days we must get through to get to the beauty and gifts of Christmas.
In the 1980’s there was an off-beat television sitcom that I loved to watch, Taxi. There was a scene in one episode with my favorite character, a burned-out former junkie cab driver named Jim. He asks another character, “What does the yellow light mean?” He’s referring to the yellow light in a stoplight, something with which he probably should be familiar since he makes his living driving. At any rate, the other character answers, “Slow down.” Jim responds out of his usual fog, “What … does … the … yellow … light … mean?”
As we enter the season of Advent this Sunday, I encourage you to remember the yellow light and slow down. Reflect on the truth that it is 11 months since the last Christmas and we know where this story is headed. Or do we? Perhaps that is what we might miss in all the rush to Christmas is the new thing God might be doing this year. How might this Advent be a time of sharpened senses? How will you experience the mysterious anticipation of God’s presence in your life – now and yet to come?.
Finally, as you move into the season of Advent, here is a prayer you might use:
Give me courage to step into this Advent with my feet bare,
My hands reaching toward the sky,
My eyes squinting into the sun,
My ears listening for the whisper,
And my mind desperate for you. Amen.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida