The Christian calendar year: Advent: A season of attentive waiting
by Steve Bell
He came with love to Bethlehem;
He comes with grace into our souls;
He will come with justice at
the end of the world.
Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene
Advent simply means “to come” (Latin: advenire, from ad-’to’ venire-’come’). Christians have traditionally set aside this liturgical season to anticipate the coming of Christ. Advent is a season of attentive waiting. Of course, as with all waiting comes the inevitable agony of anticipation – so much so that we are inclined to want to do something to make the waiting itself bearable and meaningful. In this regard, Advent is an active season of mindful preparation as well.
When a young couple discovers they are expecting a child, it is not enough for them to simply wait out the nine months and hope for the best. On the contrary, there is necessary preparation. Perhaps they clear out a spare room to create a nursery. Tough decisions are made about what stays and what has to go. They collect and purchase appropriate furnishings. They seek advice. They endlessly brood over a name; about the kind of birth-experience they hope for; about the joy, fears, and future of this new reality. Such preparation is not meaningless. It’s about getting ready to fully receive the gift of the child who is coming.
In Advent, what is the content of our waiting? How are we to prepare? What makes this time more than just a season to endure before the fun starts? How do we ready our lives to receive the gift of Christ fully, and do so with meaning – with the deepest joy and reverential awe that we suspect ought to accompany such an astonishing event?
When I started to attend to the Advent season, I was surprised at the themes present in the ancient writings. Traditionally, Advent was not the giddy season of festive parties and garish décor we have come to know. The more rooted Advent tradition was a preparation for the return of Christ, not a mere preparation for Christmas celebrations. Indeed, there was an element of festive joy, but it was also a sober season (almost Lent-ish) that began with sustained attention to our deepest longings and the assumptions, valid or vain, which those longings might indicate. It was a time of penitent reflection about the many inordinate attachments and affections we have given ourselves to – those ill-discerned commitments that prevent us from fully attaching to Christ.
Advent was a season to reflect on the rich spiritual metaphor of motherhood, or spousal maternity, which reveals the deepest truth about the mystery of the human person: that we were created to receive and house heaven in our womb, and bear it forth for the sake of the world. The Christ child doesn’t merely come to us but through us.
Advent was also a time to reflect on the ancient names of Christ – Emmanuel! Wisdom! Dayspring! Majestic Lord! Root! Key! Desire of the Nations! – as memorialized in the tradition of the O Antiphons.
Finally, it was a time to reflect on the upside-down nature of this astonishing kingdom of God that is breaking in on our desperate history, as suggested by the ancient oracles of Isaiah.
Upon reflection, one realizes that Advent is a robust and demanding spiritual season. Easy, triumphant declarations like “Jesus is the reason for the season!” or campaigns to “Keep Christ In Christmas” will not do. We are invited to much more than that. We are encouraged to attend deeply to the pulse of this season, to enter into it quietly, penitently, patiently and expectantly, allowing it to penetrate and resound in the fecund depths of our souls.
May it be done as you have said!
Plant your seed in me O God.
Not the seed of human life,
but your everlasting Word.
For we are all just like the grass,
and our glory’s like the flower.
But the grasses wither, and flowers fade.
Yet your Word, O Lord… it stands forever!
Here are a few suggestions to help you prepare for the Advent season:
• Commit to memory and reflect often on the quote at the top of this article: “He came with love to Bethlehem; He comes with grace into our souls; He will come with justice at the end of the world.”
• Listen to this song and let it penetrate your spirit.
READY MY HEART
music and lyrics by Lois Farley Shuford
Ready my heart for the birth of Emmanuel
Ready my soul for the Prince of Peace
Heap the straw of my life for His body to lie on
Light the candle of hope
Let the child come in
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ the Saviour is born
Mine is the home that is poor and is barren
Mine is the stable of cold and stone
Break the light to each corner
Of doubt and of darkness
Now the Word is made flesh
For the birth of me
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ the Saviour is born
Listen to the above song at www.pilgrimyear.com/songs :Advent Chapter One
• Consider carefully the various emotional, material or ideological attachments and commitments you have made which either help or hinder your ability to welcome Christ.
• Consider clearing the clutter (lesser things) to make room for greater things.
Ready yourself! Christ has come. He comes now. He will come again. Alleluia!
Steve Bell is a storyteller through and through. For 30 years, he has offered encouragement to audiences throughout North America through concerts, song-writing and teaching. With a vocational calling to “refresh Christian faith and spiritual tradition for the weary and the wary,” Steve is known as much for his award-winning musical career as he is for his social commentary and theological insights. He has written numerous articles for online and print publications and has penned books on Scripture and the Liturgical Year. He lives with his wife Nanci in Winnipeg, Treaty 1 Territory and homeland of the Métis Nation. Bell’s Pilgrim Year series (Novalis Press) is a 7-volume collection of reflections based on the Christian calendar year. It is available for purchase at www.pilgrimyear.com.