November 30, 2019
Dear Friends in Christ,
A couple of weeks ago, I went shopping for Advent calendars for several of my nieces and nephews. Having no luck in stores, I did what we do — went online to Amazon and typed in “advent calendars.” More than 400 items popped up; my mind boggled and my soul soared with hope. Who knew that our culture had caught on to this holy season of watching, waiting, and preparing? The speed and general craziness of the holiday season, starting right after Halloween, is pretty much the opposite of the holy season of Advent. Advent calls us to make room in our cluttered lives and hearts for the arrival of Jesus Christ — preparing for the celebration of His birth, watching for the ways of His coming among us this day, and awaiting with hope His return in glory.
I never really thought that Advent would catch on, with its quiet restraint, calls for repentance, and patient, purposeful waiting. In fact, for years one of my get-rich-retire-early schemes has been a line of Advent greeting cards with tag lines like, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Season’s greetings from John the Baptist.” My idea did prompt the good people of Emmanuel Church, Lockhart, to produce a set of such cards, but I think sales were very slow…
But now, the evidence on Amazon seemed to signal that Advent, or at least Advent calendars, was gaining traction in our society that is so hungry and thirsty for meaning and substance. Well, that’s what I thought, until I began scrolling through the items.
There are Advent calendars aplenty for the hungry and thirsty. You can buy 24-day, 25-day, 12-day beer, whiskey, or wine Advent calendars; chocolate, English Tea, hot sauce, or cheese Advent calendars; Harry Potter, Barbie, or Star Wars Storm Trooper Advent calendars; the “Essential Skincare” Advent calendars; and my personal favorite, the “24 Days of Excitement – Fishing Lure” Advent calendar. And all of them uncomplicated by any connection to the birth of Jesus.
I settled on the Halloween Advent calendar for the sheer confusion of it, then settled into gloom and despair. Our culture hadn’t caught on to Advent, so much as caught up with it and tried to beat it into submission. I wanted to retreat into the Church’s Advent Alamo, light a candle against this looming darkness, and defiantly sing Advent hymns over the endlessly looping Christmas songs. And I wanted to righteously ridicule our culture, my culture, for its willingness to be consumed by consumer products and for its habit of taking things that are true and beautiful and life-giving, like Advent, and rendering them cheap and meaningless.
But as I sat humming, “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” the Lord truly led me to repent of my snarkiness; not to embrace this latest cultural mash-up and mess, but to consider that there might be an opportunity here for those of us who yearn for the joy and solemnity of truly keeping Advent.
People likely are buying silly calendars because they have no idea what this holy season is all about. And if they have no idea, it’s probably because no one has ever told them, or invited them to share in the beautiful experience of Advent. Maybe we haven’t told them, or invited them to come sit and watch and wait with us. Maybe we haven’t let others see us living this Advent journey, remembering with joy our Savior’s birth in Bethlehem as we prepare for the annual birthday feast; paying attention and watching for how Jesus comes among us this day; and participating in His life and mission as we await His coming again.
Who doesn’t need the alive-ness of that kind of life? The people buying those calendars are marking time and counting days, in some fashion. What better time than now to invite them to join us in this season when time is pregnant with meaning and the days are full of grace? Episcopalians like to say we’re an “Easter people,” and so we are. But we are also, and always, an Advent people — living in between what has been and what shall be.
Each year, we are given this lovely gift of sanctified time. It’s as though God in His love hands us these four weeks, and says, “here’s some of this time you say you never have enough of. Enjoy it.” One of the best ways to enjoy it is to invite other frazzled, searching people to come out of the seasonal madness and enjoy it with you.
I will light the Advent candles, day by day, and pray the old prayers of the Church, and sing the Advent songs. And I will think of you in the eighty-six congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, and pray that you indeed receive with joy and hope and expectation this gift our Lord offers to you.
I’m thankful to God that we have this time together.
Love in Christ,
David M. Reed
Bishop of West Texas