Advent, Version 2020

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.
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