Advent has always been my favorite liturgical season. The quiet, preparatory waiting speaks to me. In the Before Time (before the pandemic), I spent December baking cookies, shopping, going to parties, and lots of other activities. Every day seemed to be jam-packed, allowing little time for contemplative practices, yet I longed for those quiet, preparatory hours.
That’s why I was so intrigued with a notion I first encountered in Gertrud Mueller Nelson’s book, To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration. As you know, many of our Christian traditions were built on existing celebrations and observances of pre-Christian people. Nelson explains that was true of the Advent wreath
Pre-Christian people, living an agricultural life, would remove a wheel from a wagon as the amount of daily darkness increased and bring the wheel inside. It was a deliberate act, acknowledging the slowdown in outdoor productivity that comes this time of year.
Invite the sun to return
They would lay the wheel on a table, decorating it with candles and gifts from the fields. When they lit the candles, they would invite the sun to return. With increased sunlight, the people could return to their work in the fields, sustaining their livelihoods.
Our Advent wreaths are rooted in this practice of pre-Christian people.
After learning this piece of history, my husband and I would joke every Advent that it was time to take a wheel off our car. I envied the slower pace of living that a self-imposed Advent exile would bring. No driving to work, the grocery store, the shopping mall, or the fantastic light show. More time to pray, read, and reflect. More time with family.
We never did that. Until now.
Gift of time
Because of the increased infections, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by the global coronavirus pandemic, Illinois officials are encouraging us to stay home as much as possible. We might as well take a wheel off our car because we’re not going anywhere during the Advent season. And we already know we won’t travel for Christmas either. The next four to six weeks are decidedly empty of obligations.
The wheel is off. What will we do with this gift of time?
I usually select a book to read and reflect upon during Advent, and this year’s choice is A Weary World: Reflections for a Blue Christmas by Kathy Escobar. We’re getting our Advent wreath ready. I have a quilting project that I’ll work on each day, producing small gifts for my extended family. I’ll join in the Blue Christmas Service offered by Women of the ELCA.
I’m looking forward to more time to pray, read, and reflect–even if that offer of time, now that it is actually before me, is a bit unnerving.
That’s what I’ll be doing this Advent. How about you? How will you observe our pandemic Advent?
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA.