I have a simple ABC for this liturgical season. My Advent ABC tells me that Advent is Before Christmas. Not that the liturgical season itself — with its particular hymns, readings, colors, and customs — doesn’t proclaim this beautifully. Rather, it is the rest of our lives which gives my Advent ABC its traction. Granted, I fully expect to hear sermons encouraging me to choose between the (essentially sales-driven, pre-) Christmas season and the liturgical season of Advent. But for this year, I prefer simply to keep to the message of my Advent ABC. I will thus think of the count-down of shopping days until Christmas, the school and office Christmas parties before Christmas, and the gift-giving in Advent not as the polar opposite of an Advent spirituality, but as a different engagement with time. And I will seek to engage the liturgical time of Advent not simply as an opposite time to inhabit, as if we can so easily step out of our daily rhythms and broader ways of belonging. Rather, I will live Advent as an invitation to inhabit more deeply the one God-sustained time we have all been given.
What might this look like? Instead of focusing on what to resist, I will journey purposefully through these weeks with an Advent God, a God who is always on the way toward us. Advent, after all, is about God’s own adventus, God’s coming, not our own frantic rush, and there is nothing we ourselves can do to manipulate God’s Advent in our lives. In some ways, counting down shopping days until Christmas is not so dissimilar a journey. Christmas, after all, will surely come this year, no matter how calmly or hurriedly we live these days. The only thing in our hands is the preparation. In the same way, there is something we can do in response to the promise of the presence of God: namely, a particular way of inhabiting time, in anticipation. Some years ago, walking at the shoreline, I realized the kind of waiting and anticipation Advent asked of me. It is a waiting that is sure and centered, like waiting for a tide to turn. I cannot rush the tide or make it move; it is governed by rhythms well beyond my control. Yet in in its own time, the tide will surely come. All I need to do is to wait in that assurance. This waiting is very different from an anxious and fearful anticipation, one that braces itself for an uncertain answer or a likely “no.”
This Advent I hope to wait for God as I would anticipate a coming tide. I want to be there, fully present in joyful expectation, when God’s real presence comes to touch the shore of my life, like an incoming, vibrant tide. It is the basics of such a waiting I seek to learn again in these Advent days — and whatever help the liturgical season and the quickening pace of daily life offer me, I will welcome.