What is Advent? For someone who did not grow up in a faith that celebrated Advent, I have a paucity of perspective from a traditional point of view. But after reading about it and talking with those who ‘practice’ Advent, I think that it is a time of patience, of waiting in the dark, of trust, of anticipation and of hope.
The days are short here inMaine. As I write there are less than nine hours of light during a day. It is the beginning of the season which leads up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus who was born in humble circumstances. And while I do not necessarily believe that Jesus was born in December, but rather nearer Passover, it is the darkest time of year (in the Northern Hemisphere…we must remember others in the Southern Hemisphere who celebrate Christmas do so in the lightest of seasons) which provides for a great metaphor – the light of the world being born in the darkest of times.
We rest after our summer and fall when we grew, harvested, and preserved our food. Now we spend most of our time indoors, bundled against the snow and cold. It is a time that could be hopeless, but it is not…we share in the fire, we share in what limited light there is.
Candles are something we take for granted…Do you realize that candles or oil for lamps were the province of the wealthy until just about a hundred years ago? So, when we speak of light when Jesus was born and in the early centuries following his life, light was incredibly precious – a limited commodity. So, waiting for the light, anticipating the sun, anticipating brightness in one’s life at this time of year is again a metaphor well-used for Advent.
I am not a patient person, so the process of waiting is not an easy one for me. Waiting for the birth of my son was agonizing…eight months of waiting (after all I did not know I was expecting that first month). The miracle of his birth was worth the wait, was worth the necessary patience and care. Can you imagine the joy at the birth of the child Jesus – in the dark, in the stable, in such humble circumstances? The fact that there was a new light in the evening sky was an added gift, but no how was it as great as the gift of life.
During this time of year we await the holiday of Christmas. It could be a time where we open our hearts to the spirit of love, seeing the holy in everyone. More often it is a time of hectic shopping, wrapping, decorating, parties with little focus on the event we celebrate. This day honors the birth of a child who became a great teacher and prophet, who showed us the way, who spoke of love and care and our responsibilities to each other. You need not believe in his divinity in order to celebrate his birth although most who truly celebrate Christmas believe that Jesus was something more than human.
I also know that we often use the concept of waiting and patience to a fault. If there is an injustice in our world, we often wait until we feel empowered (and we seldom feel empowered) or we say: “Patience – we don’t know the solution yet- it will come in time.” We wait too long until suffering becomes overwhelming. We might act then, but more often we have learned that we are helpless against the system. So, we wait and have patience some more.
I am therefore torn perhaps justifying my impatient nature. I believe that Jesus taught that we are to take care of each other, to love each other, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to harbor the homeless. Instead most of us wait…wait until we are done with our Christmas shopping or our parties.
I am not particularly fond of using the phrase “what would Jesus do”, but I think I will use it now. What would Jesus think of our waiting and patience in relationship to those who suffer economic injustice and oppression? What would he do about our current economic miasma? And, obviously, I can’t be sure, but I think he would ask us to give of our time, of our energies, of our treasures to help those in need. And, he wouldn’t think of it as just a holiday thing either…he would ask that we be impatient with injustice year round…that we no longer wait to change the systems of oppression and inequality.
Advent is the season where we can open our hearts to love and light if we take the time to do so. One way of letting in that light is by helping others. What will you do to help…not just tomorrow, but for the future?