The Advent season is upon us, the season of waiting and preparing our hearts for the arrival of the Christ child. Waiting is hard. When I was a child, I enjoyed the Ramona and Beezus books by Beverly Cleary. In one book, Ramona starts school for the very first time. She is fidgety and full of questions and wants to be busy. Finally, the teacher shows her to a seat and tells her, “Wait here for the present.” In other words, wait here for now. But that’s not what Ramona hears at all. She hears, “Wait here for the present, the gift.”
Often that’s how we spend Advent. We do our best to sit quietly in a chair, or a pew, to still our hearts and our minds and our fidgety bodies, and wait for the gift of the Christ child. Don’t get me wrong, quiet, contemplative waiting is an essential part of the Advent season, especially in our achievement-based, instant-gratification culture. Slowing down and waiting is both a gift and a spiritual discipline.
But Advent can and should have active components as well. And our active waiting, if we fully embrace it, can be risky and even costly. In most of our churches, we light candles in our Advent wreaths each week; usually one each for hope, peace, joy, and love. What if we could commit to getting serious, as individuals and families of faith, about embodying each of these themes? What if we allowed God to build these qualities into our lives and transform us and our churches (love, joy, and peace are part of the fruit of the Spirit after all)?
What might it look like to embody hope and help it flourish in our communities? As a result of the perfect storm of COVID, social unrest, contentious election seasons, disrupted supply chains, and wars around the globe, many people in our churches and in our neighborhoods have lost loved ones, health, jobs, housing, and hope. While providing holiday meals and gifts for struggling families is important and worthwhile, and providing winter shelter for the homeless is essential, these practices meet only short-term, immediate needs. How might God be calling us to address the systemic issues that perpetuate the generational cycles of poverty and despair? How can we embody the gift of the Christ child to bring lasting hope?
Peace is often elusive in our personal lives and in our larger world. Peace in our personal lives begins with a growing relationship with Immanuel, God with us. Putting our faith and trust in One greater than ourselves can help us release our pain and anxiety and rest in the arms of the One who loves us. Advent is the perfect time to encourage our church members to invite others to know and understand the love of God. We are also called to work for peace in the communal and global sense. How do we speak truth to power and work for the equality and justice that will allow peace to flourish in our world? Are we willing to take these risky and potentially costly stands as individuals and congregations?
Embodying peace and hope and working diligently for them at all levels are two tangible ways that we can be God’s hands and feet, bringing love and joy to our hurting world. Advent is a good time to remember that all people are made in God’s image – -those we call friends and those we might call enemies. As we live in the in-between time of already but not yet, how might God be calling us to love deeply and authentically? How can we help others know the joy of being loved and valued by God and by God’s people? How can we wait both quietly and actively this Advent season?