photo by Charles Edward Case

Advent is a beautiful season (to state the obvious), but it is also a season that is a little bit, well, off. Wedged in between the feasting of Thanksgiving and the exultation of Christmas, Advent is neither as peaceful as the lazy, meandering days in the middle of Pentecost, nor as penitential as the long and rigorous weeks of Lent. Perhaps this is due to the shortness of the time we are given to prepare. Or maybe it is because of the distractions that are everywhere this time of year, pulling us toward standards not of our own making. Or it could be that the weeks fly by because of the distractions, resulting in the unsettled feeling that we haven’t quite gotten every box checked off our “to-do” list.

Much is written and bemoaned with regard to the commercialization of the weeks leading up to Christmas—that Advent has become nothing more than a countdown to the “big show” on December 24 and 25, instead of standing on its own liturgical and seasonal integrity. And, to the extent this is true, it is also unfortunate. Because dismissing the four weeks before Christmas means opportunities lost. These opportunities could take the form of connecting to some of the most compelling Biblical figures (Zachariah! Gabriel!, Elizabeth, John, Mary!), connecting to prayer practices that soothe the clamor of the secular world, or connecting to other people near and far through a shared sense of expectation.

So maybe one approach to Advent could be taken from the season’s older seasonal sibling, Lent. In Lent we talk about giving something up or taking something on, in order to expand our relationship with God. In Advent our commitments could include giving up excessive materialism, overloaded schedules, or anything that is not directly related to the Love Commandment. And adding on? Patience, compassion, generosity, hope—all the spiritual virtues that give life. Amid the noise and busyness of this time of year, reclaiming Advent is good practice for being intentional about what we are called to do always: wake up. Watch and wait for God incarnate to break through.