The Christmas season is not a quiet time for most of us. The malls are filled, and so are our schedules. We try to shoehorn event after event into our days and nights, already filled with shopping and eating and drinking and visiting friends and family and colleagues from work. Adrenalin flows freely as we stay up late buying and wrapping and decorating and trying to stretch a few dollars a little bit further. We sigh about it every December, but before the last Thanksgiving leftovers are gone from the fridge, we take a deep breath and dive into what for many of us is one of the busiest times of our entire year. The gift-giving and family connections and celebrations are all good things, to be sure, but they leave us feeling stretched and hollow and wanting if we don’t pause along the way to be quiet before the One for whom we wait this Advent season.
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word for arrival, or coming, and is observed by Christians around the world as a time of expectant waiting for the birth of Christ. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition it is often observed by prayer and fasting in preparation for the cleansing light and ultimate judgment connected with Christ’s coming, and in many Western church traditions Advent is celebrated more as a time of joyful expectation and anticipation of Christ’s birth. Both of these traditions focus on something essential about the Messiah’s birth – Christ will come to judge the world and deal with sin once for all, and He will come to set the captives free and establish a just and joyous kingdom unto ages of ages. This is cause for both sobriety and for celebration, to be sure.
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, and stands as an ideal time for us as a community of leaders to purpose together to make this season a time of pausing and paying attention and being quiet before the coming Messiah. Though the momentum of the coming month will push back hard against you, determine now to pause quietly and regularly over the coming weeks to reflect on the Christmas story (you might want to start by reading Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 1:1-2:40), to search out and sing some of the great Advent hymns (one is found below), and to be quietly and attentively open to the One for whom we wait. This month, take a few minutes in the morning before the day is upon you, in the middle of your busy day at home or at work, or in the evening after dinner or before bed, simply to sit quietly in your room or your office or your living room by the lighted tree and let your heart turn to the mystery and beauty and power of Jesus coming as the infant Messiah – may all of you know the nearness and mercy of God on you and your families this Christmas!
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly-minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the pow’rs of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.
At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!