Advent, Version 2020
Author: Anne Vial
November 25, 2020
When the lockdown began last spring, we were in the midst of
Lent. Many commented then on the appropriateness of our COVID isolation to a
season of contemplation and sacrifice.
On Sunday this week, we begin the season of Advent. In most
years, this time of year can take on a frenetic pace as we load ourselves up with
family, friends, and food for Thanksgiving and then sprint through obligations
and celebrations and gatherings in preparation for Christmas itself. Even at
church where the focus is (mostly) on the point of the season—the birth of
Jesus—the pace picks up. So much more music, decoration, food, craft,
information, so many more requests for assistance.
This year is different, of course, but as the one who
compiles announcements for the newsletter and bulletin, I can tell you there
are still a lot of moving parts. Choirs are recording videos, Advent kits are
being prepared, even an empty sanctuary needs to be decorated (doesn’t it?).
And the calls for donations of food, gift cards, fundraising purchases have not
waned; in fact, needs are especially great this year.
Still there is despair over the thin version of Christmas
many of us are anticipating this year. The renewed isolation brought on by
spiking COVID numbers and the lengthening darkness of December’s cold nights (bluer
and lonelier than ever this year) seem ready to steal our joy. Enter Advent.
Like Lent, Advent is a season of preparation. We wait
through the darkness for a pinprick of light, the birth of a baby. The herald
angels sing sweetly o’er the plains after the event. Before, there is bleakness,
silence, captivity even. Historians can’t tell us the date and time of Jesus’
birth, nor the season. But the metaphorical appropriateness of midnight on one
of the longest nights of the year has certainly captured the imaginations of
story tellers and hymn writers through the generations (on this half of the
globe at least). The joyful feast of Christmas on December 25 is all the more
inspiring in contrast to the waiting and darkness that has gone before.
To reside in darkness now is to feel the neediness
that makes Christmas the miracle it is. Our own needs for companionship and
meaning and the world’s need to be fed literally and figuratively are present
right now; and they are deep. To feel them is to feel the season we are in.
Jesus didn’t come as a jolly great-uncle ready to start the party early. Jesus
comes to the very place where the party isn’t. He comes as a child to a world
of suffering, a world that has no idea joy is possible. Through love, the
darkness is transformed. We like the shepherds may be fearful—or not quite
awake—when the angels come. But just as Lent brings with it the promise of
resurrection, Advent brings hope for joy in the world.