Practicing Advent In a Time of Turbulence

Daniel Davis / Lightstock
Daniel Davis / Lightstock
As our nation deals with division and distrust, how do we approach this liturgical season?

Never before have I been so eager for Advent to begin. This past church year began with the San Bernardino shootings. We saw the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Terence Crutcher, the ambush of police in Dallas and in Baton Rouge, and the horror of the Pulse nightclub massacre. We witnessed the growing Syrian refugee crisis, the continued violence of ISIS, water contamination in Flint, as well as deadly earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires all over the world. And of course we walked through a presidential election, which revealed and continues to reveal deep divisions, hostility, and distrust within our society.

It’s been a rough year. Collectively, we’re all aching. Advent could not come soon enough.

For me, there have been years in which practicing Advent took discipline; I had to hold myself back from leaping to the Christmas merriment. This year, I could not jump to a holly jolly Christmas if I tried. This year, I know in my very bones that I need this space to stop and grieve the brokenness, disappointment, and darkness. This year, I collapsed into Advent like I was falling into the arms of an old friend. There, I’m held by my local and global church community as together we mourn, wait, ache, and sing “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel.”

My friend and mentor, Father Kenny, recently said to me, “You can’t continue in turbulence for long. After turbulence, you need still waters.” I think we could all collectively use some still water.

But what do the “still waters” of Advent look like?

Eastern and Western liturgical traditions both celebrate Advent, but our practices have a slightly different flavor and focus. In Eastern Orthodox churches, Advent is a penitential season, a “little Lent.” In Western liturgical traditions, we emphasize preparation for Christ’s coming, which certainly involves repentance but also entails rest, hope, longing, and quiet.

Advent holds in tension two complementary but seemingly paradoxical postures of faith: repentance and rest.

One perk of living in the Northern hemisphere is that the natural seasons roughly track with the church calendar. The Lenten bleakness of March gives way to the rebirth of springtime, usually right around Easter. In Advent, the days darken, and then, right around Christmas, the hours of light begin to lengthen again. In these long December days, everything in nature—including our bodies—wants to slow down and curl up. Bears go into hibernation, trees lose their leaves, birdsong quiets. We are tired and need rest.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Tish Harrison Warren