We are in the season. That time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas when holiday music graces our airwaves and decorations grace our homes. That time of year when cookies and cakes become a little bit sweeter and a lot more festive. That time of year when wrapping paper and bows make their annual appearance under a bedazzled evergreen tree. It’s the holidays, and for most of it still is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
For Christian faith traditions this time period is known as Advent. It’s best described as the time spent waiting and preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. I remember it as a time when special candles were lit at church. There were three purple ones and a pink one placed around an advent wreath. Each week the priest would light a new wick until all four faintly flickered. That meant Christmas was close, as was the arrival of Santa Claus. Hey, at least I was anticipating something.
As an adult Advent is much different. While I love the holiday season with its festivities, I also dread some of the coming complications that always seem to lurk whenever Christmas is close. My least favorite activity is gift giving and the entire process that comes with it.
“What do you want for Christmas?” my mother always asks.
“I want you to spend the money on your grandchildren.” I always reply.
I don’t really need anything, and if I do need something, I go and buy it before I think about the holidays and my mother’s desire for me to open a gift from under the tree. In my mind the money is better spent on toys or books for my nephew and nieces. Plus, as adults, gift giving has become mundane. I get my brother a $50 gift card to his favorite restaurant. He gets me a $50 gift card to my favorite clothing store. Let’s just skip it and save the 50 cents it costs each of us mail the cards via the US postal service.
Don’t get me wrong. I love giving gifts. I spend hours mulling the perfect present for my wife. If I see something while I am out and about that I believe anyone else might enjoy, I’ll buy it in a heartbeat, and there doesn’t have to be a special occasion or reason. I know a spouse who likes llamas, and I saw a llama iPhone cover, so I bought it. I thought she’d like it, and I didn’t need to wait until Christmas to let her enjoy it.
But Advent isn’t about the gifts, at least I don’t think it’s supposed to be. To see if I could find out what it is really supposed to be about, I consulted the experts. I asked “google.” Here are what some people have said about advent.
“It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”– Pope Benedict XVI
“Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”– Mother Theresa
“It is now, at Advent, that I am given the chance to suspend all expectation…and instead to revel in the mystery.”– Jerusalem Jackson Greer
“The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment right before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”– Frederick Buechner
Thinking about that last quote reminds me of another one.
“Life is a journey not a destination.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I look back at 2018, I see a year that was much more journey than destination. I spent the entire year trying to lose weight; trying to get healthier. I spent time this year, putting words on paper, writing the first draft for a book idea I’ve had for a long time. I spent time reflecting on where I’ve been and wondering where I might go next, both literally and figuratively.
Which brings me back to Advent. In the religious sense, yes, we are preparing and waiting for a Savior. But everyone, no matter how they celebrate the holidays are waiting and preparing for something else. They are already thinking about all the great things that will come next. They are making resolutions. They are thinking about words that will describe their new year. They are looking at 2019 staring them in the face.
I’m no different. When I set weight loss goals for 2018, I did it during Advent. When I planned my diet and exercise plan, I did it while gorging on Christmas cookies and Egg Nog. When I set “fitness” as the word I wanted to describe my 2018, I did it before Santa came. My 2018 adventure was set during Advent.
Wait a minute.Adventure. Advent. ADVENTure. That can’t be a coincidence. Advent is literally in adventure. Not only that, it’s the beginning of the word. It’s practically the whole word. What does that mean? What does that say about life? When I look closely, I realize, you can’t have an adventure without starting with an advent. There has to be a time where you are waiting and preparing for what comes next. Even if you aren’t actively prepping for an adventure, before something starts, you’re in a period of Advent.
Remember those candles I mentioned at the beginning of this. It turns out they each represent an attribute we’re supposed to reflect on during this season. They represent hope, love, joy and peace. I don’t know about you, but when I think about those four things, I think about how I want my life, my adventure to look. I want to find hope in where I am headed and what might come before me. I want to love others in the best way possible, so they might love others with the same possibilities. I want to find joy in every adventure, even if it’s not in the happiest of circumstances. And I want to have peace, knowing that my adventures are going to better me as a person and member of society.
The fact is that I want to be in a constant state of advent. I want to always be waiting and preparing for life’s next great adventure. I want the attributes of hope, love, joy and peace to infuse their way into everything I do. I want to awaken memories of goodness. I want to serve others. I want to suspend all expectations, and revel in the mystery that is life. I want to remember that life is a journey, not a destination. Life is an adventure.
This advent season, whether you are waiting and preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, or waiting for Santa, take some time to prepare for whatever might be next in your life adventure. You don’t have to plan every step you’re going to take, or wait around for that step to find you, but being in a constant state of advent increases the odds that opportunities for adventures will arise. Look for them. Be aware that they will come. Be ready. Adventures await. Advent is here.