There’s something fresh about turning the calendar page over to December. Just like there’s something fresh about the first week of a new Advent. In many ways it’s a blank slate—as we ease into the most celebrated month of the year, December eases in quietly with its pinkish sunrises and orange-purple afternoons. Like the Holy Spirit, Advent moves quietly into our lives, waiting to be known. A whole year has steadily crept by while we attended to the things that required our attention, and we have returned to this familiar place once again.
Like a painter imagining the first strokes on a new canvas, or a child who’s awakened to a fresh blanket of snow. What now?! (And this is the challenge, isn’t it?)To overthink our approach to this fresh and beautiful season, is to skim over the preciousness of its newness, yet to plow forward with no intentionality is to miss the point entirely.
So where’s the in-between? [Here’s the good news.]
Advent as a season IS the in-between. We’re awaiting the already and not yet. Preparing ourselves for the arrival of the Word made flesh. Our willingness to step foot into the newness that is
Honor the space between no longer and not yet. –Nancy Levin
Advent is special precisely because it is that ripe place of no longer and not yet. We become something new in the in-betweeness of this growing place. When we allow our hearts to be melded by expectation, hope and the possibility of the incarnation we cannot help but be changed into something new.
The Prophet Isaiah describes the transformative scene:
All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say:
"Come, let us climb the LORD's mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
That he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths."
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again. –Is. 2:3-5
We know from experience that the prophets represent a voice in the wilderness, a lonely voice in the crowd. This continues to be the case. As Christians we feel the tidal wave of Christmas hoopla creeping into this Advent time of preparation, blurring the distinction between our time for readying our hearts and allowing our hearts to embrace the waiting. As Ronald Rolheiser describes:
“Celebration is a paradoxical thing, created by a dynamic interplay between anticipation and fulfillment, longing and inconsummation, the ordinary and the special, work and play. Life and love must be celebrated within a certain fast-feast rhythm. Seasons of play most profitably follow seasons of work, seasons of consummation are heightened by seasons of longing, and seasons of intimacy grow out of seasons of solitude. Presence depends upon absence, intimacy upon solitude, play upon work. Even God rested only after working for six days!”
Culturally we can anticipate a feast, but we have lost the art of sustaining it. If we are to get back to the practice of feasting as a celebration of the arrival of the Christ child, our posture of preparation must look prophetic in a way that stands alone in the cultural Christmas explosion that begins in early November.
Each of us is called to this place of preparation in a way that is distinct. The important part is not what that preparatory posture looks like, only that we find a method to sustain that preparation. Resources for these kinds of preparations abound (and it’s never too late to begin). Little Blue books, Blessed Is She Advent journal, USCCB, Creighton University’s Praying Advent, etc. Find a practice that suits you and allow the work of the season to flourish within prophetic witness.