DECEMBER: Slowing the pace and actively waiting.
I used to be rather impatient with all kinds of things. I must have been about 15 when I learned to make chocolate pudding from scratch in a home economics class. At school I dutifully followed the teacher’s instructions to first sift the cocoa before measuring to eliminate any lumps. Later that same week I decided to make some pudding for my family. Wanting to shorten up the time it took to make the pudding, I simply measured out the cocoa and didn’t bother to sift it. The telltale lumps in the pudding I served, full of dry cocoa, were witness to my impatience.
As I’ve aged, I’ve learned to be more patient, mostly through trial and error, especially in parenting. Like me with the cocoa, though, a lot of us aren’t too patient when it comes to observing Advent. We want to celebrate Christmas throughout the whole month of December. After all, by then Christmas decorations have been up for weeks. Radio stations devoted to Christmas music started up as soon as Halloween was over.
Why not deck the halls, wrap some presents, and sing some carols in the weeks leading up to Christmas day? Let’s get to the good stuff, many seem to say, so that by the time December 25 rolls around, we can be done with Christmas and on to celebrating the new year!
I’m forever indebted to an illustration Gertrud Mueller Nelson uses in explaining Advent traditions in her book To Dance With God. Nelson tells of pre-Christian people in Europe who, as the nights grew longer and the weather turned colder, took a wheel off their wagon and brought it into their home. The wheel was festooned with evergreens as a reminder that life would come again anew in spring. Candles were added to the wheel for added light in the darkening days of winter. Taking the wheel off also symbolized stepping back from their means of commerce and entering into a fallow, dormant season.
Nelson goes on to ask the provocative question that continues to haunt me each year – how would your Advent be different if you took a wheel off your car? What if you slowed down the pace of December and leaned into an active dormancy? What if you observed the season of Advent and began your Christmas celebrations on December 24, fully celebrating the 12 days of Christmas? The answers to these questions really suggest not only how your Advent would be different but also how your celebration of Christmas would be different.
Advent is a holy time, a time of incubation when we are made hale, healthy, and whole. At the same time, Advent is not a time for idle waiting, watching, and wondering. No, Advent is a time for active preparation. We take efforts to realign ourselves with God. We focus more intently on prayer, devotion, service.
Last year, during pandemic shutdowns, we had an opportunity to metaphorically take off the wheel and experience a different kind of Advent. Was Advent different for you in 2020? Will it be different this year?
May you find a space for quiet contemplation and conversation with God in this season of holy mystery.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director.