Boy, do I need Advent this year!
I need a respite from the commercial “Christmas season”–where the sacred and the secular collide and are awkwardly entangled for weeks, where good will and generosity struggle with crass consumerism, and where the birth of love into the world is reduced to “Jingle Bells.”
My soul seeks the quieter depths of Advent, the Church’s four-week season of preparation leading up to Christmas. I need it this year more than most, because the world seems to be going a little out of control. Ebola, Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria, outrage over the deaths of unarmed citizens in our own streets, the inability of our elected leaders to even talk reasonably about solutions–all of these things worry me; buying gifts and eating Christmas goodies don’t distract enough.
Advent calls for the opposite of distraction. Scriptures of the season speak openly of the world’s agony. They foresee even worse days ahead. They call us to look, clear-eyed, at the world – to acknowledge the pain. They call us to wake up!
And then with eyes open, in Advent, we begin to have reason to hope. “Comfort, oh, comfort my people,” reads the scripture. God does not intend the world to live in pain, but rather to find wholeness. We hear scripture’s call on us to be the hope. “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me… he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”
In the reflective space of Advent, my distraction finds focus beyond the headlines. I see young people demonstrating to improve our justice system, and I see churches providing safe spaces for them. I see that an Ebola vaccine is nearly ready for testing. I see the many people of God joining to address hunger and poverty. I remember sometimes our greatest social trials lead to our most significant social advances. I start to feel the rekindling of new possibilities, and a call to be part of that movement–a challenge to become myself as evidence of God’s goodness and beauty and love at work to bring wholeness out of the chaos.
During Advent we light candles. They are a small light in the darkness. But when the darkness is especially intense, a small light shines all the brighter. Advent focuses me on those bits of light. It prepares me for the sacred celebration of Christmas–the welcoming of God’s love born into the world as a child, a small vulnerable child who changes the world through us when we pick up his challenge of love.
I need Advent to remind me to look for signs of that love. I need its call to join with others to be that sign. Boy, do I need Advent this year!
Sharon E. Watkins is the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. She was the first woman to lead a mainline denomination in the U.S., and has served on the Advisory Council of the White House’s Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Watkins is the author of Whole: A Call to Unity in a Fragmented World, and holds a doctoral degree from Phillips Theological Seminary and Master of Divinity from the Yale Divinity School.