What is This Thing Called “Advent?”
In the Christian Church we entered the holy season of Advent this past weekend. Many people ask, “What is this thing called ‘Advent’”? The word Advent actually means “coming.” We celebrate God coming into our midst in the birth of Jesus. Advent is a season when we prepare ourselves spiritually for Christ to be born in our lives. The truth is, no one actually knows what day or time of year Jesus was born. Most bible scholars think it was actually around 4 BCE. We celebrate it in December to coincide with the winter solstice, since we believe Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.
I must admit that I love the season of Advent, mostly because it is so radically counter-cultural. Every Advent I re-read my favorite Advent books. One of them is called “The Reed of God,” by Caryll Houselander. This book describes Advent as a seed. A seed hidden in dark, moist soil. A seed planted, gestating beneath the surface, but not yet seen. The process of growth has started, but it cannot be rushed, cannot be forced. We must do something extremely counter-cultural. We must wait. We must wait for “nature to take its course.” We must wait for the green shoot of new life to break through, aching for the light, and to grow into the plant or flower, the vegetable or tree, that it will be.
Juxtaposed to this quiet waiting in darkness, is the overwhelming noise and harsh neon lights of Black Friday and shopping malls and Santa and Christmas in all its gaudy commercialism. Christmas music blaring wherever we go, red and green glitzy dazzling Christmas.
Not so in the church. In the church we must wait for Christmas, like that seed slowly growing in the darkness. In the church we do not sing Christmas songs till Christmas. We sing minor-key Advent songs of longing, aching, waiting. In the church the color is not bright red and green, but deep, velvet, midnight blue, which is a lot more like the way many of us feel during this season.
At our church we highlight the counter-cultural aspect of Advent with our theme “Come to the Quiet.” During the season of Advent our worship is a haven from the noise and chaos, the bright lights and consumerism of the world. During Advent our worship is more quiet, and includes more time for silence and contemplation, to let the seed take root.
For Houselander Mary is the human image of this season, the model for all of us. Mary, a humble teenager who was brave enough to say “Yes” with her whole being to God. Mary is the “reed” of God, that simple reed that became a flute, letting the Breath of the Holy Spirit (in every language I know the word for Breath and Spirit is the same word!) sing through her life. Mary, pregnant and waiting. Christ, like that seed, gestating within Mary’s own body, Mary’s ordinary life. God made Flesh in Mary’s flesh, in Mary’s living, breathing, walking, working body. Houselander says all of us are to be like Mary during this season of Advent.
Advent is a pregnant season. Pregnant Mary is the symbol of what Advent is all about. Just as we cannot rush a seed to grow into the plant that it will be, so also we cannot rush pregnancy. The almost ten months of gestation are essential. In the beginning, a woman does not even look pregnant, but she knows she is. Every thought, every breath, is focused on the new life gestating, growing within her, tiny, secret, in the darkness of the womb.
In the early church they came up with a big, fancy, churchy word for Mary. They called her Theotokos, which means “God-bearer.”
Houselander tells us that we are all Theotokos, God-bearers, Christ-bearers. Following Mary’s example, can you say “Yes” to letting God be made flesh in your life, in your flesh and blood body, in your work and home, among your family and friends this Advent? Can you, like a pregnant woman, focus your every thought, your every action, toward letting the the seed which is God in you gestate and grow and mature and come to fruition? Can you say “Yes” to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to spend Advent letting the Christ in you grow until, in God’s time, you let Christ be born in your life?
Can you be a Theotokos, and bear Christ, God-made-Flesh, in our world today, in your life, this day?
That is what this thing called “Advent” is all about. May God/Christ/Spirit grow within our hearts, our bodies, our lives. Remember, Mary was not some powerful, perfect person. It was her ordinary life, her simplicity, through which God chose to reveal Godself to us! So it is still today, in your life and mine, that the small seed of Christ grows into a plant, a flower, a tree.
May we have the courage to say “Yes.”
In this pregnant season of Advent,
may you see God in all you encounter,
and may you reflect God to all you encounter.
Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright December 2, 2014
Pastor Linda Forsberg
Photos: Reeds at dusk, Newport, RI; walking paths at Holy Family Retreat Center, West Hartford, MA; Community Garden, Farmington, CT; Sylvie and plants in our “Secret Garden”; a restaurant in NYC; reeds at Camp Helen State Park, Panama City Beach, FL; “Mary” at Our Lady of Calvary Retreat House, Farmington, CT; Mosaic from Hagia Sophia Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey; Garden statue, Holy Family Retreat Center, West Hartford, MA; 600 year old oak tree, Eden Garden Panama City Beach, FL