Several years ago I went to visit one of my former professor’s. After many years of teaching he had resigned from teaching at the College I attended and was now Pastoring at church a little ways from where I lived. I made the drive that December and looked forward to having lunch with a man from whom I’ve learned a great deal through the years. I’ve met few people who are as intellectually impressive as Dr. Stephenson. His students used to joke that “he knew everything about everything”. He did. He never came across as a know-it-all but could easily engage with anyone in conversation on almost any topic. When I arrived at the church he had me wait for a few minutes in his office while he finished a few tasks at his desk. I took full advantage of this opportunity and perused his bookshelves searching for his theological influences in hopes of gaining some wisdom. While I was snooping he spoke up. “It’s Advent. Advent is the missing season, you know?” I didn’t know. But his words have stuck with me and after many years I came to understand what it is that he meant.
Growing up my understand of Advents was limited to chocolates and calendars. I also was the proud owner of a stocking that had twenty-four little pouches in it. I think they too were to be filled with chocolate but I recall moving a teaspoon from pouch to pouch. How I ever let my parents get away with this atrocity is beyond me. The stocking, the calendars, the chocolates, the whole month of December, in fact, meant one thing for me – Christmas! But here’s the thing, Christmas doesn’t actually start until December 25th (unless you are from Eastern Europe in which case you celebrate Christmas on January 7th) and lasts for…12 days. Now you know why there is a song called “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. What comes before Christmas, however, (starting on the fourth Sunday before December 25th) is Advent.
Advent comes from a Latin word “adventus” which simply means “coming”, or “visit”. At Christmas we celebrate God’s coming to us, but in Advent we prepare for God’s coming. We wait for God. This waiting has two meanings. First, we wait as we prepare for the coming light at Christmas. We prepare our souls, our homes, and our churches for the coming of Jesus that we celebrate on December 25th. But secondly, we are reminded that Jesus promised that He will come again for us! So, as Henri Nouwen put’s it, “We are waiting for the Lord, who has already come”. The question that Advent asks is – how are we waiting? In the Gospels we read about some people who waited well: Simeon and Anna, Elizabeth and Mary, for starters. They believed the promise and waited faithfully. During the weeks that lead up to Christmas we, who are also waiting for the coming of the Lord, need to ask ourselves the question, “am I waiting faithfully”. “Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now?” (Joan Chittister). Now is a good time to look deep into our souls to see if we are waiting faithfully and humbly for the Lord. It’s a time to acknowledge our fears, our doubts, and our sins. Most of the time we like to busy ourselves so we don’t have to think about these things. This is, of course, how our culture trains us to spend this season. Is there a busier season than just before Christmas? This is, at least partly, what my professor meant by “the missing season”. What was meant to be a time of waiting, introspection, and preparation has been turned into a time of last minute scrambling.
One of the tragedies of the first Christmas was that no one had prepared a room for God. It has, unfortunately, become easy for us to be just like the Inn Keeper – to busy with business as usual to remember to make room for God in our own lives. My challenge to you is to not rush through this season without taking time to ask yourself “what is it for which [I am] spending your life?” What do I doubt? What do I fear? What are the parts of my life which seem to be stuck? What are the areas in my life in which God has not yet been welcomed? It’s not easy to ask ourselves questions like these, but I am reminded of the words of a great Jewish scholar who said, “You cannot find Him in the answer if you ignore Him in the question” (Abraham Joshua Heschel). As we honestly ask ourselves questions like these we break the long standing Inn Keeper tradition, and prepare our hearts as homes for God’s light to shine.