One of the great things about Advent is that we get to spend time slowing down and waiting. If your faith community and family don’t talk much about Advent, well, I’m sorry.
Sure, some people think it’s pretty humdrum. Light the advent candle. Sing a little song. Read a little prayer. Then on to the more interesting parts of the service. It’s a shame, really, because there’s a lot of potential in spending time reflecting during this season.
A lot of potential.
Advent isn’t just about lighting purple and pink candles each Sunday as we count down to Christmas. In fact, it’s not just about counting down to Christmas.
It’s about beginning a new year–the liturgical calendar starts with the first Sunday of Advent–in a spirit of penitence. It’s about acknowledging that seasons of feasting and seasons of fasting are equally important to keep our lives on track. And though we often don’t want to think about it, Advent is about the work that we are called to do.
Most of you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m pretty convinced we’ve got the feasting thing all wrong in most of our communities. Mainly we do too much of it. But seasons of fasting? We definitely get fasting wrong, too. Historically, the two fasting seasons–Advent and Lent–were about more than just following stricter diets (as some traditions, like the Orthodox, still do) or “giving something up,” as most of my Catholic friends growing up talked about.
As important as these aspects of fasting are, during these seasons we aren’t just supposed to cut things out of our lives. We’re supposed to be adding some things in, too.
Acts of service.
Kind of sounds like work, doesn’t it?
It is. Discipline takes work. Giving of our resources (and of ourselves) takes work. Serving others takes work. Especially in December! We’ve got Christmas activities to plan. Cookies to bake. Papers to grade. Family to visit. Who has time for more work?
But, gosh, I heard today’s Lectionary reading from Isaiah and, my friends, it sounded a lot like work.
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed... -Isaiah 40:3-5
I don’t know much about these things, but I’m guessing that building a highway in the desert is pretty hard. Making mountains low, the valleys high, the rough places smooth? Nearly impossible as far as my skill set is concerned.
But on the metaphorical level? It might even be harder. Making the broken world whole. Bringing peace to where there is war. Justice and courage and wisdom to where there are none. Addressing sin and pain and hurt, cultivating wholeness and fruits of the spirit and discipline. Oy.
And then we are to try to apply this to our own communities? Messy, messy, messy. (I, for one, would rather be baking Christmas cookies.)
During this season, we are called work. We are called to give of ourselves, of our resources, of our time, even–and perhaps especially–when it is difficult and messy and seems impossible. (You might recall, too, that Isaiah was writing to a community of people, which is a stab in the heart for those of us who’d rather just get the work done by ourselves.)
Isaiah tells us that this, this hard, messy work as a community is the work that makes a pathway for the Lord. It’s this Pathway that we await during Advent.
Isn’t that worth a bit of work?