The Christian calendar begins a new year this Sunday with the start of Advent. I have always loved Advent and Christmas. I love the decorations no matter how simple or ornate. When my brother and I were children, my grandmother made us an Advent calendar with a Christmas tree and ornaments of felt that counted down the days until Christmas Eve. It was a fun tradition where we took turns hanging one little ornament per day. As Christmas grew closer, my sense of expectation became more unmanageable. I couldn’t wait until Christmas morning to open my presents.
In recent years Advent has become one of my favorite seasons of the Church year with its mix of celebration and longing. My love for it is thankfully more in line with the Church’s celebration of the Incarnation than with Madison Ave.’s celebration of the year’s biggest shopping season. In Advent we remember and celebrate the first advent, when Jesus came into the world and we look forward and long for the second advent, when Jesus will come again, bring the new creation to fulfillment, and “righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” (Psalm 85.10b) Just as we remember the longing for Messiah before the first advent, we now long for Messiah’s return. Last year Carey and I made it a point to turn our Advent wreath into a prayer, a physical reminder of the great Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
Each week we decorated our wreath with stories and pictures of injustice around the world along with prayers and Scripture that reminded us of God’s great mission to save the world. We let these stories and verses shape our Christmas expectations. We decorated our home last year with the traditional tree and its celebratory ornaments, our creches from different cultures, and poinsettias and garland. Those decorations created a sense of festivity in our home and I loved it. It was also helpful to have the Advent wreath sitting in the center of it all, however, reminding us of the important longing inherent in Advent. While it may seem like a downer to be reminded of injustice in the world, I found the wreath drew me into deeper prayer. It is a struggle each year for me to step out of the busyness of the season, to filter out the noise of the commercials, and to pay attention to God. I find I need reminders, physical reminders of what God values and what God promises to do. I need to remember that as we celebrate the glorious, miraculous, joyous, and history-changing event of the Incarnation, we also pray with sighs and groans for the return of Jesus.
How do you celebrate Advent and make it meaningful?