By Dr. Terri Martinson Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary
I have a confession to make – I’m not much for waiting. Most of my days are filled with things to do and people to see, moving from one thing to another. Truth be told, I even try to choose the quickest line at the grocery store. I don’t like waiting, and I’m not very good at it. But when it comes to the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my attitude changes and I want to slow things down and savor the moment.
One thing I love about being part of the church is the rhythm it affords my life. Not only do I appreciate regularly worshipping with a community of faith, but the seasons of the church year help me live beyond my daily schedule of appointments. Advent lets me and my family prepare for celebrating God’s coming to earth in a time when I need to be reminded. Let me explain.
Society helps people prepare for Christmas through shopping ads and TV specials. Congregations prepare people for Christmas with traditions of waiting and retelling our Christian story. At my house waiting for Christmas happens through a hybrid of practices, which starts with getting the house “in order” and ends with reading Luke 2 and lighting the last candle on the Advent wreath. First the tree is up and decorated, the stockings are hung, garland and candles decorate the family room, and Christmas lights make the house shine. (Just ask my daughter what happened when Dad said he wasn’t going to put up the lights this year!) But then Christmas music fills the air and Christmas recipes are dusted off and goodies are consumed. And it wouldn’t be Advent without Christmas concerts, holiday parties, and times visiting with special people. And then there’s living into the season of exchanging gifts. All of these activities build anticipation and create energy, yet each is not the final event.
On the surface, the two “preparations” might not seem so different. But don’t let looks deceive. You see, for people on-the-go, being together at home, baking and singing Christmas carols is a gift, as is a Friday night basking in the “angelic” sounds of Christ coming in a glorious cathedral. The weeks of Advent focus on anticipation, on preparing, on waiting. Humans don’t like to wait. And in society, waiting is not a usual pattern, nor is Advent is the usual waiting. In Advent, waiting it is not passive, it’s active. Waiting is for the coming of God, to earth and into our lives. And waiting is accompanied by hearing the Christian story – read and sung by children’s voices and college choirs, in worship and over the car radio. And Advent waiting comes in community – be it waiting for times with special friends or gathering with familiar faces. Advent waiting comes as we step out of the regular pace of our life and be, before God and one another.
Advent is a season of waiting, waiting on the coming of God into our lives and our world. And Advent waiting is active. How will you wait this season? How will you celebrate the God’s coming to earth?
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Terri Elton is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She’s our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change.
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