I’m going to let you in on a little secret about the Christmas season that I’m afraid we forget too easily; there is this prelude to the Nativity scene that, despite popular belief, doesn’t actually include Black Friday, Santa Claus or untangling Christmas lights. It’s called Advent. And whereas Christmas, in its purest form, centers around giving, Advent is all about receiving. We receive God’s presence and experience His love. Advent asks us to be still in the midst of the busiest time of our lives. As if Americans are not rushing around during the other 11 months of the year, we certainly are during December. It’s one thing after another, and often leaves no time for the things Advent values most.
“Advent” is a version of the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” Advent’s joy is found in the waiting, and our world’s joy is … not. We are part of an instant-gratification society. We purchase presents in four clicks online, and set up Christmas trees by twisting three sets of branches together. It’s easy to disregard the importance of being still, of watching and waiting. However, this is how we prepare Him room to come, and I believe the best way to do that is to prepare room in our schedules and in our hearts for the people around us. We are called to cultivate stillness and receiving, because in order to treat others as children of God, we must believe that we too are fully loved by our Father.
Advent is the time in which we give ourselves space to be still and know. We allow ourselves to feel the love that He pours upon us. There is no agenda; there is nothing else possibly more important we could be doing than this. We calm our hearts, we practice stillness, and we allow the knowledge that He is God to invade every thought in our minds and every cell in our bodies. It’s a time of allowing ourselves to be fully known and fully loved; and when we have received this gift of God’s love, we can then show love to others. Advent is a season for allowing God’s love to cleanse our hearts in order to prepare space for what He desires to do next.
It’s about looking for the divine in the most unexpected of places. Christ came in the stillness, in the darkness, on the back of a donkey, in a feeding trough, as the most helpless and innocent creation there is – a newborn baby. May we look to one another, to our dearest friends and to those who appear to be very different from us. May we see the Incarnation when we gaze into the hearts of all people. May the stillness keep us from missing a small flickering candle in the midst of bright Christmas lights.
I love the Nativity most because God shows up in a form we would least expect, and this is why so many people in the story missed it. If we are not being still, if we are not preparing Him room, if we are not watching and waiting with anticipation that He will show up, I’m afraid we may miss it too. This is the heart of Advent. And while it is a tangible part of the liturgical calendar, I believe Advent also serves as a powerful metaphor into how God made us. We must partake of the stillness and the quiet knowing, we must allow ourselves to be still and be loved, we must have Advent, in order to have Christmas.