Advent. Until I was a teenager, “Advent” was just an adjective followed by the noun “Calendar.” And all it meant was “a challenge to sneak more than one piece of chocolate per day out of the calendar.”
Eventually the word became associated with stuffy church traditions that weigh people down with religious requirements. And more importantly, only boring churches talked about Advent.
As an Evangelical, we tried to save people from such routine, not understanding how something so scripted could be meaningful.
But in the past five years, spontaneity has lost its luster. Getting lost in the practices of the people of God has become more meaningful to me than getting lost in relevant praise music or reading a “devotional.”
And in that time, I have discovered that church rhythms are about something more than “feeling close to God,” they are about practicing new habits.
They jolt us out of the culture-induced haze that we cannot help but succumb to throughout our everyday routines. They are about loving God with our habits, as well as our emotions. They are about play-acting a new reality as a community, behaving in a way that matches our hopes and prayers.
And so, for the last few years, Advent has become the most important time for my faith. As a family, we have decided that this season, from around Thanksgiving until Christmas, will be a time for us to stop. It is a time of rest when most in our culture stress, to be present with people rather than just buy presents for people.
I need this time to remember that I am in this world but I will not be owned by it. That Wal-Mart will not decide what Christmas means to me and my house. But remembering that takes more than a weekly church service. It takes more than listening to Christmas carols in the car. It takes practice.
And so, even with three toddlers, a 4 yr old, a 3 yr old, & a 2 yr old, the next month will be a time for us to take a break, do less and not more. And the things we do will be intentional. They will be a willful decision each moment to be aware of things we have lost sight of through the year. That my children are beloved, both by me and by God. That my wife is my best friend. And that God has heard our prayers.
For us, this has a distinct set of practices. Each person learns a special prayer we pray together each morning at breakfast, we sing carols before I go to work during our daily “Circle Time.” We tell a special story every night before we put a homemade Advent ornament on our tree. And we end every night with the lights out singing O Come O Come Emmanuel. All of them remind me throughout the day of the season I am in.
And once the kids are in bed Sarah & I spend our nights making gifts for the kids. This year she is knitting them stuffed animals while I write each animal a short adventure story explaining how they came to our house. And then we sleep, consciously going to bed earlier than we normally do, resting on purpose.
These are not rules we must follow, they are not burdens to bear for God to be pleased with us. And probably most importantly, they aren’t that different than how we live outside of Advent. They are practices that linger over the next eleven months, they anticipate and act out a life we long for the rest of the year.
There will always be ebbs and flows to our lives, seasons of busyness and seasons of boredom, sibling rivalries that need mediated and rowdiness that leads to broken furniture and dishes. Lots of broken dishes.
But as for me and my house, Advent has become a time to remember the past, to be present with those in our lives, and to look forward to, even act out, a time that is coming. A time of peace, joy, and love. In a word, Advent gives us hope. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.