The church’s seasons, like Advent or Lent, have been mostly irrelevant or a mystery to me. My “liturgical” friends make a big deal out of Lent, Ephiphany, or Pentecost. In my baptist tradition, no one preached against the church seasons, they just weren’t mentioned. It’s not unusual to have an Advent sermon series but we usually don’t light candles. This year is different for me.
In my diverse reading cycle, I came across Mark Cosper’s book, Recapturing the Wonder. He caught my attention on the importance of the church’s seasons.
Cosper writes that we can recapture the wonder of our faith by developing signposts in our lives, those significant moments that call us to “remember that we are citizens of a different world.” In the rush of life I need reminding about my true citizenship.
What fuels this remembrance? Cosper encourages creating life patterns that mark time with God — yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily events to call us back to our Lord. Creating life patterns through events make space for God in our busy lives. One life pattern is keeping the ancient church calendar. We make space in our schedules for our Lord by celebrating Advent.
Advent marks the beginning of the church year. In the Western church calendar, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The word comes from the Latin adventure — meaning a “coming.” I love how Poet Malcolm Guite describes Advent, “Let us take the adventure that God sends us.” Advent should be an adventure of sights, sounds, and smells that set us up for the coming adventure with Jesus. In preparation for this adventure, we pray and prepare for His coming.
Unfortunately, Advent has become synonymous with the watered down “holiday season.” We‘ve lost the emphasis on waiting and the inward preparation for reflection and repentance. As originally practiced in the early church, Advent was a period of fasting in preparation for the Feast of Nativity (Christmas). Now it’s an indulgence of the senses without any sense of moderation or worship.
Advent is a spiritual discipline that encourages me to slow down and pay attention by making space for God. “Space” speaks to making time in my schedule for a person or an event. It also suggests a physical entity, like a parking “space.” Empty spaces, whether parking lots, schedules, or hearts, are waiting to be filled. We create spaces in our lives for God’s presence to fill.
This space for the Lord can be a time space or a physical space — like attending a worship service or lighting an advent wreath. When I make space for someone in my schedule I’m choosing to give him or her my attention. I need this attentive space to “tune-in” to God’s presence by removing the distortion around me. My goal is to get on His wavelength.
The church’s seasons are a practical and age-old way to make space for our Lord. How am I making space for Jesus by practicing Advent? How am I reminding myself that I’m a citizen of a different world?
- Peggy and I have purchased an Advent candle wreath (Amazon sells them!) and we light the appropriate candle each Sunday and talk about the meaning of each colored candle.
- I’m reading some devotionals for the Advent season. My current one is Waiting on the Word: A poem a day for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany by Malcolm Guite. Poetry doesn’t normally make my reading list but I enjoy this book because the author explains each poem. Poetry enriches my space with God through the power of words.
- I photo copied some artist’s paintings of the various nativity events. I combine the visual with the biblical account as a fresh approach to meditation. A great resource for how the graphic arts portray the church seasons is Imaging the Word: An art and lectionary resource, volume 3.
- We purchased a manger scene at a big box store this year and proudly posted it in our front yard. It’s a simple way to announce to our neighbors the coming of Jesus. Dedicating this space creates a witness to our Lord’s coming.
Peggy and I pray that you will experience the hope and joy of Christ in new ways this Christmas season. May our Advent observance launch us on the adventure that God sends us! Let’s invite Him into the space of our lives, filling the space of our hearts as Immanuel — the God who is with us not safe distanced from us.