by Pastor Megan Herrold Sinchi
It’s almost Advent!
I imagine that many of you, especially if there are children in your household, are more likely to find yourself saying, “It’s almost Christmas!”
But for many years now, Advent, not Christmas, has been one of my favorite seasons of the church year. I’m actually not a huge fan of Christmas, and I think part of the reason may be because Christmas so often overshadows the Advent weeks in which I would like to more deeply dwell.
Even as a child in church, I remember enjoying the Advent season because the altar decorations switched from green to purple. I always thought the green decorations that our church used was one of the ugliest shades of green out there, so I was happy whenever it finally changed.
In seminary, I started to learn more about the history of Advent and what it represents in the church calendar: this season of anticipation and expectation. And of course, the hope, love, joy, and peace represented by the candles in the Advent wreath.
I was particularly struck by the idea that during Advent, we imaginatively enter in to the experience of the ancient Jews who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. At the same time, we consciously dwell in the anticipation of Jesus’ return and the coming fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Those who awaited the Messiah were longing for redemption, salvation, and justice. Today, we look on the brokenness of this world and long for the same, for God’s will to be done–on earth–as it is in heaven.
For the past five years, consciously embracing the Advent season has allowed me to resist the commercialization and secularization of that marvelous incarnation and birth of Jesus that we desire to celebrate at Christmas. It’s not always easy–just like all areas in which we seek to follow God and resist worldly impulses. But it has great rewards. Less stress, fewer financial worries, freedom from the burdens of excess and “stuff.” (It’s possible that I only experience these as burdens because of my minimalistic tendencies and others who read this may have no idea what I’m talking about:) Freedom from my own perfectionism. Freedom from my concerns over the long-term impact of some holiday practices, such as on the environment.
All of us, to varying degrees, are facing new questions of how to celebrate the holiday season this year. Some of us are facing very hard decisions. And it makes perfect sense that we may be lamenting the loss of beloved traditions.
For our church family this year, we will miss the annual Christmas caroling we do at Covenant Living of Northbrook; Pastor Greg and Charlotte will not be hosting the Annual Advent Open House at the parsonage; we won’t be able to have a Christmas program the last Sunday of Advent; and our Christmas Eve service will be different this year and most likely virtual.
And while there may be nothing that can fully replace the losses that we feel, I do find some hope during this time because of the season of Advent.
When we consciously sit in our anticipation of Jesus’ return, our imaginations are granted permission to expand beyond their usual boundaries. We make space for wonder, for excitement over what it will look like to dwell eternally in God’s presence.
That same imagination, wonder, and excitement can also empower us in our current contexts to explore new celebratory practices and attitudes this holiday season. We don’t have to strive for normalcy and face the inevitable disappointments. We have another option. Many other options. We can find new ways to celebrate this Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. We can open our hearts to God’s leading and experience the gospel through new words and practices.
Some of us may find something that becomes a new annual tradition. Some of us may find something that is just for this time and place in which our usual habits have been put on hold.
We can recognize the losses that we are feeling this season. I personally believe it’s healthy to acknowledge those and bring our sense of loss before God. But I also pray that you find new avenues for celebration this year. That God meets you and draws you and your families closer, filling you with all divine hope, love, joy, and peace.
We have a few more Advent Wreath kits, if you want to sign up! And look out for our forthcoming Advent Devotional!