This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, the four weeks that lead up to and prepare us for the celebration of Christmas. For the most part, Advent is a season of joyful anticipation. After all, Christmas music is on the radio, mistletoe is tacked to door frames, the trees are trimmed and the malls are decked with holly and holiday deals. Advent is the time of year when we eat fruitcake paired with eggnog, when we wear wonderfully eccentric sweaters and take bets on who can recite furthest beyond the first line, “Twas the night before Christmas” in Clement C. Moore’s sentimental poem, “A Visit From St. Nicolas.” All of this is good, and my prayer for you is that your journey through Advent will lead you into joy, happiness and good fun.
But even as your Advent is celebratory, I hope you also will leave some space for spiritual contemplation. Advent takes place during the darkest time of the year; in fact, Advent always accompanies the winter solstice and then welcomes the lengthening of days. During Advent pay attention to the waxing and waning of darkness in your life. Historically in the Church, Advent is a time to light candles, remembering the Light that shines in the darkness. As the candles are lit, consider how your spirit needs to be brightened by divine light. In contemporary American culture, Advent leads us into a season of giving and receiving gifts. This advent, ask how you might be more generous; ask also what you need to receive from others.
And as you are engaged in Advent spiritual reflections, don’t just reflect on your own journey through Advent. Ask what Advent might mean for others. This last week, as I was driving my children to school, Whitney Houston’s version of “Do You Hear What I Hear” was on the radio, and as Ms. Houston sang, “A child, a child, shivers in the cold, let us bring Him silver and gold.” I looked out of my window and saw a man sleeping on the median strip near the intersection of 51st and Shattuck. His blanket was an old jacket and his pillow was a pair of beat up running shoes. I suspect it would surprise him to hear it, but I’m fairly sure he was, for me, at that moment, the Christ Child. I needed, as an act of Advent spiritual reflection, to ask what Advent means for homeless children of God in our city and in our region. In fact, during Advent it is good to see every human being as the Christ Child, and so, as an act of Advent devotion, let us ask what Advent means for victims of violence and neglect wherever they may sleep.
Luckily, joy and contemplation can exist side by side, and when we embrace both the happiness and the soul-searching nature of Advent, we will approach Christmas as people truly blessed.