How should we celebrate Advent? In Gail Ramshaw’s new book, Word of God, Word of Life, Ramshaw writes, “A time of waiting for the coming of the light of Christ gives a Christian interpretation to the ancient pagan observance of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice. A call for moderation in living, for times of silence, and for the practice of fasting keeps alive an early resistance to the wild Saturnalia celebrations common in the Roman Empire and can stand in our century as rejection of a hedonistic consumer culture.”
While the time before Christmas can be frenzied, Advent calls us into a time of waiting. In “Canticle of the Turning” (723 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship), a modern adaptation of Mary’s Magnificat, we sing, “My spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait.” Yet, as Sundays and Seasons reminds us, “we wait for what we already have.” Christ is already among us, even as we wait for his birth.
One of the things we wait for, during Advent and at other times, is change. The change Advent heralds is dramatic, world-shaking: “From the halls of pow’r to the fortress tow’r, not a stone will be left on stone,” we sing, recalling Mary’s assertion that God “has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones” (Luke 1:51-52). Yet the point of this change is not destruction, but justice; we go on to sing, “The hungry poor shall weep no more for the food they can never earn.” It is this upset of the current world order—the downfall of the mighty and the uplifting of the lowly—that causes us to sing in “O little town of Bethlehem” (ELW 279) about “the hopes and fears of all the years.” True justice is the hope of the disadvantaged and the fear of the powerful.
Advent comes as chill sets in for the winter and the days get darker. It is a time of holy mystery, a time to pause before we spend the rest of winter and a good part of spring reliving Jesus’ time on earth. It is here that it might be good to recall the closing stanza of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.”
The winter, too, is lovely, dark, and deep. How do we pause here in Advent, as the persona in Frost’s poem pauses on their horse, and then continue onward into Christmas and Epiphany, and eventually into Lent and Easter? What does pausing look like? Perhaps it is space for silence in the intercessory prayers, or a reminder to pray every evening. Whatever pausing looks like to you and your congregation, we hope that your season of Advent is full of holy mystery and holy presence.