This is the third installment documenting my attempts to participate in the Advent season, which takes place over the four weeks before Christmas. In Advent, we are invited to long for the beauty of Christ’s coming even as we look honesty at the brokenness of the world and our hearts.
I am so grateful for Advent, and I’ve learned a lot. But I’m still a rookie, and learning to practice Advent has been especially challenging. For one, I am not inclined to lament or enter the darkness of the world of my own heart. I like to be uplifted and comfortable. Two, I’m addicted to productivity, so I get obsessed with my work projects. I can’t easily shift from work mode to stillness and reflection. Three, my wife and I just moved to a new apartment and are in a hurry to get “settled.” Fourth, when I am learning a new thing, I tend to gather up all the resources I can but not use any of them in-depth. I acquired several Advent books, Advent devotionals, and Advent songs to my library. But I haven’t learned any of the songs, and I haven’t read as much as intended. I have the tune of “Come O Long-Expected Jesus” in my head but I can’t remember the words.
The fact is, it’s hard to form new habits! This is my first rodeo! Although Advent has revealed certain weaknesses in me, I won’t despair. I’m more aware of my need for a Savior and his soothing grace. I’m more broken than I thought, especially regarding my ability to enter into the brokenness of others in a sustained way. But God’s mercy is more profound than my weakness. Participating in Advent is not about achieving.
Can you tell that I’m becoming more aware of God’s quiet work as I write this? Now that I’ve aired my frustrations, I remember how much more consumer-oriented and sentimental I was last year during “the holidays.” My custom was to take a break, but it was mostly an escape into a hedonistic couple of weeks. I have changed a bit, and it’s actually been a good rookie year. But it’s not my own doing. The broken beauty of Christ kind of washed over me as I fumbled through some of the handed-down rhythms of Advent.
Like I’ve mentioned before, each Sunday I light another candle and read from The Book of Common Prayer. This tangible act can happen even if I’m busy and tired. Plus, the prayer is repeated each day for a week in my prayer practice (The Daily Office). This was last Sunday’s:
O Lord Jesus Christ, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found a people acceptable in your sight; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.
At first, I honestly didn’t like this prayer. Why? First of all, it was for “ministers” rather than for me. Second, I don’t like the word “disobedient.” After a few days, I realized this is an excellent prayer. I’ve been disobedient myself. And not just “back in the day.” I’ve stubbornly resisted many of God’s commands my whole life. As a result, I developed a few addictions. But recently God spoke through his teachers, and “turned the heart of the disobedient (me) to the wisdom of the just.” I’ve tasted a freedom I could not have imagined even a few months ago. When I pray this prayer, I am asking God to release me and others from our chains.
Before closing, I want to make you aware of an excellent article on Advent from Tish Harrison Warren. It was published last December in the New York Times. She writes:
To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness. Advent holds space for our grief, and it reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the evil in the world but are also wielders of it, contributing our own moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness.
For most of my life, I’ve not allowed myself to grieve. I thought I was supposed to get rid of negative emotions. Cork those feelings with lots of Bible verses! I don’t know if I was told that, or I just assumed it. In the next paragraph, Warren puts her finger on my avoidance:
Our response to the wrongness of the world (and of ourselves) can often be an unhealthy escapism, and we can turn to the holidays as anesthesia from pain as much as anything else. We need collective space, as a society, to grieve — to look long and hard at what is cracked and fractured in our world and in our lives. Only then can celebration become deep, rich and resonant, not as a saccharine act of delusion but as a defiant act of hope.Tish Harrison Warren, Want to Get Into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness
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