We all know the popular holiday song, “We Need a Little Christmas” made famous by the 1966 Broadway musical, Mame. In the original production, Angela Lansbury crooned,
For I’ve grown a little leaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older….
But we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute,
Candles in the window,
Carols at the spinet.
Yes, we need a little Christmas now.
I don’t know about you, but as for me, this year I need a little Advent.
For many people both in our country and around the world, 2017 was a rough year. Several of my close friends experienced personal loss and grief this past year, while a string of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings affected all of us on a larger scale. Across our country, we have witnessed a deep political and ideological divide that was sparked by the 2016 presidential election and has continued under the current administration. Protests and counter-protests on a variety of issues occurred in nearly every major US city in 2017; one such protest resulted in the death of a 32-year-old woman who stood up against racism and hate. This year was also marked by the thousands of stories of women (and men as well) coming forward with their accounts of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment through #MeToo. Over all of this was the constant fear of entering into a mass military engagement rising from thinly veiled threats of nuclear war.
Looking through the major news stories from this past year is like reading a litany of pain, fear, anguish, and suffering. I cannot even count the number of times in 2017 when the only prayer I could muster was, “Kyrie Eleison…Lord, have mercy.”
I feel like we have all grown a little colder, grown a little older, and grown more than a little sadder.
That is why more so than usual, I have been longing and expectantly waiting for Advent. Advent is the time in the Christian year when we look forward to the coming of Christmas and the anniversary of Jesus’ incarnation on earth, yet also anticipate the future, second coming of Christ to earth. (I recognize the irony here: I have been waiting for the season of the Christian year that is marked by waiting.)
There are two ways to think about waiting:
For many of us, waiting is a generally negative experience. I will admit that I am a pretty impatient person. I am a product of the “microwave generation”–I want things things now. I have Amazon Prime so that I do not have to wait the 5-10 days for regular shipping, but instead can receive my purchases within 1-2 days. I Netflix-binge so much that when I watch a television show on regular programming I am mildly infuriated at the commercial breaks. I get notifications on news stories as soon as they break and I have access to the daily weather report at the touch of a button. I use the self check-out lines at the store because there I don’t have to wait on someone else to bag my groceries. Waiting is not something I tend to do willingly.
Yet waiting during the season of Advent is different. It is more like the waiting that happens as the roast cooks in the crock pot, the bread rises on the counter, and the cookies bake in the oven as you look forward to friends coming over for dinner. It is the waiting of pregnancy, feeling your child grow inside of you and preparing your home for her coming arrival. It is the waiting for a long overdue vacation to a warm and tropical place. It is waiting for something amazing; you know something great is about to happen just around the next corner.
Advent-waiting is a form of hope. Advent helps us look forward to a time when Christ will restore the broken world, bind up the wounds of the hurting, ease every burden and sickness, and wipe away the tears from our eyes. In this type of waiting, we do not “grieve like people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Even in the midst of the present pain and suffering, we know that this is not the end. These birth pangs will soon pass, and then we can welcome the new and glorious creation that has taken residence among us.
So as I close out 2017, I am entering into Advent expectantly, excitedly, and hopefully. To help center my mind and spirit on what is yet to come (and not this present, painful reality), I am engaging in several new Advent practices this year. I welcome you to join me in these Advent disciplines:
First, I will be engaging in devotional readings each day during Advent from two different books. The first is Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro. (You might recognize Okoro’s name through her work with Shane Claiborne on Common Prayer: A Liturgy with Ordinary Radicals, a devotional favorite of mine that journeys through the liturgical calendar.) In Silence and Other Surprising Invitations, she tells the story of Advent through the eyes of Zechariah and Elizabeth, as they long to become parents in their old age and wait on the arrival of their son John.
I am also excited to participate in the daily readings from Long Expected Jesus: An Advent Devotional put out by The Foundry Publishing. I am mostly looking forward to reading Long Expected Jesus because many of my dear friends and colleagues in ministry were contributors to the book (including Michael Palmer, Brooklyn Lindsey, Robbie Cansler, Shawna Songer Gaines, and Carla Sunberg).
Next, because I recognize the powerful impact music can have on our spiritual practices, I have created an Advent playlist that I have already been listening to on a constant shuffle for the past few days. If you are a subscriber to Google Music, you can listen to my playlist (which I uncreatively named “Mellow Advent”) for free on your phone or computer. But even if you don’t subscribe to Google Music, you can still view the playlist and recreate it on your preferred music platform.
Finally, in recapturing the childlike spirit and joy surrounding the days leading up to Christmas, I occasionally like to engage in coloring. The past couple of years, “adult coloring” has grown to nearly cultic levels. While it’s easy to become a perfectionist in creating intricate, detailed works of art through coloring, I merely like to color because I find it relaxing and destressing. I often color while listening to my favorite podcasts or an audiobook. Two of my favorite Christmas-themed coloring books are Vive Le Color! Christmas by Abrams Noterie and Johanna’s Christmas: A Festive Coloring Book for Adults by Johanna Basford. You can pick up your favorite coloring utensils at your local arts and crafts store.
I would love to hear about other Advent practices that you are engaging in this year. Let me know how you are finding hope, joy, and peace this Advent in the comments below.
However 2017 was for you, I pray that you may find Christ’s mercy and the hope of a new year this Advent season.