As I sat in church yesterday, peering through the windows behind the organ at the gray sky and bare tree branches, I thought to myself "I am not ready for Advent to be here already."
I love Advent. It is my favorite church season. Advent elements of watching, waiting, and hoping in the dark resonate with my own faith and my own personality. I adore Advent hymns and their imagery of dark and light, night and dawn, God's now and God's not yet. I think there is nothing prettier than a sanctuary dressed up in twilight blue, full of candles, dark but warm, with cold air blowing outside.
More than that, I enjoy preparing for Christmas. I can't wait to put up our Christmas tree, to string lights around our windows, to replace our usual trinkets and knick-knacks with glass Christmas trees and a nativity scene. And don't even get me started on Christmas music...
I have so many deep memories and traditions associated with this season. And when Advent 1 hits, I always want to be perfectly ready for it.
Most years, I find myself longing for Advent long before the season arrives. I try to pick an acceptable date in early November to start listening to Christmas music, and I have to resist starting our decorations early. All I want to do is jump headlong into an Advent space of darkness, warmth, candles, and the music of both Advent and Christmas. And in these eager years, I always feel like I've been waiting with anticipation....for the very season of waiting and anticipation! A pre-Advent Advent, if you will.
But yesterday, gray and cold, found me sitting at church, seeing the blue and the candles, feeling the dark morning echo the darkness of waiting...and yet I still felt unprepared, as if Advent had snuck up on me, and it really should only be the middle of October right now, because that's where my brain is sort of stuck.
And then, I heard these words in the gospel reading: "Keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake"(Mark 13:33-37).
And I remembered that the point of Advent is not to have arrived early on God's doorstep, sitting outside the stable impatiently and unimpressed, as if God should show up in this world right on my own schedule and according to my own poetic and picturesque rules. God broke into our world and it was a beautiful surprise. God breaks into our own lives in spontaneous and merciful ways.
Advent is an elbow to the gut while we are nodding off amidst the ordinary, busy trappings of our daily lives. It startles us awake and shoves us into preparing for Christ with hope and expectation. The point of Advent is not that we are sitting idly by, our bags already packed for Christ to come. The point of Advent is to nudge us into remembering that Christ will come, and we might do well to start wrapping our brains and hearts around this idea. The point of this season is not that we already have everything figured out and put in place. The point of this season is to remind us to keep moving, and to startle us awake so that we might get to work, preparing and fixing and cleaning and cooking and setting lights in our windows so that the whole world might know with Christ that we are, indeed, awake!
So it is okay that I was not ready for Advent to begin. And it's okay that I am still getting my head in the game. Because Advent gives us permission to scramble a little bit, because in that scrambling, we rouse our expectation and excitement, running around and getting everything ready for the beginning (again) of God's new world come to earth in that unexpected, unassuming, tiny little baby of a savior.