Note: I've been meaning to write about Advent here for the last 2+ weeks, and still haven't made time to do it. The following is adapted from a post I wrote about Advent 3 years ago, on my old blog, and for the most part it still sums up my thoughts on this sacred season.
Advent and Christmas have always been my favorite times of year. As a Christian, Christmas holds so much significance for me: how incredible that our God would love his creation so much that he would send his only son to be born a human baby, and live a regular life among us! Christians can sometimes get caught up in a focus on sin, and our redemption as being something that happens in Heaven after we die, but for me, God's birth in human form tells me that our very humanity itself is a gift, albeit one that we have squandered. Christ's humanity invites me into a deeper experience of what it means to be human, and keeps me firmly grounded in the temporal experience of the here and now.
Advent and Christmas often get conflated into one season, but Advent is as different from Christmas as Lent is from Easter. Advent is the season of waiting and preparing for the birth of Christ that is observed in the Christian Church during the four weeks preceding the twelve days of Christmas, which go from Christmas Eve to Epiphany (Jan. 6th). Advent was traditionally a season of fasting, which helped focus attention on our need for a Savior, thus enabling us to experience the joy of Christmas with a greater awareness of it's impact. Waiting is not something that is often celebrated, or even tolerated in this culture, but it is an important spiritual discipline. The waiting of Advent is mirrored in the natural world as days grow shorter and the earth draws inward for it's long winter sleep. It is no accident that the celebration of Christmas follows on the heels of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year which has been a festival of lights in pagan cultures for centuries, and while some Christians decry this association, I don't think it could have been better. The darkness of the days in Advent remind us of the darkness of a world without God. As we celebrate the return of the light, we also celebrate the birth of Christ, who is the Light of the World.
I have wonderful memories of celebrating Advent as a child: lighting the candles in the Advent wreath each Sunday night, and opening a window in my Advent calendar each morning. As an adult, my Advent observation has included the reflections of this amazing little book, and my time at Christ Church introduced me to a liturgical Advent in which we didn't sing Christmas Carols until nearly Christmas! (I usually like to start listening to Christmas music in November, so this was a fast for me). Dave and I have enjoyed reviving the Advent traditions of our childhoods, and adding some new ones of our own to our celebrations as a family. One thing we particularly cherish is our fast from electric lights, so that we may bring our bodies into a more visceral awareness of the darkness of this time of year, and the darkness of sin in our lives. We spend the month of December wraped in the gentle light of candles and oil lamps. It is profoundly peaceful and meditative, and also helps make us mindful of our ecological footprint. (And honestly, I'm always on the lookout for ways to re-live my childhood dream of being Laura Ingals Wilder, so this is right up my alley!)
There are many wonderful reasons to celebrate the season of Advent even if you are not a Christian. The word "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival" and it coincides beautifully (and not accidentally) with Solstice, and the return of the Sun's light to us. I find this overlap of earthly and spiritual realities to be so rich! Uncommon Grace blogs beautifully about this, with many ideas of how to honor this season with your little one, whether you are waiting for the Birth of Christ or the return of the Light or both! If nothing else, celebrating Advent is an opportunity to stretch out and simplify the Christmas season, and find some peace in an often hectic time of the year.
How are you staying sane these days?