Is Advent taking hold?
Is it my wishful thinking, or is Advent a little less frenzied this year? Is the Spirit taking rueful advantage of recession and touching us all in that place where we self-regulate a little--maybe even get a bit contemplative?
Small and compact, Advent as a season on the sacred calendar has always been counter-cultural. In its earliest form it was six weeks not four, and it deliberately served for Christmas the same penitential purpose as Lent does for Easter. Counter to the theme of "coming" in the sense of Christ coming by birth into the world, its themes focused on last things, the "second coming" agenda of Heaven, Hell, Death, and Judgement.
So if our usual over-indulgence and hurry are muted by the genuinely tough times, is that so bad? That's not the same as asking if God is sending bad things to punish us. Such a theology assumes God is puppeteer pulling every little string of our lives, a surprising way of seeing God that otherwise thoughtful people often fall into. A different but perfectly traditional, even orthodox, way of seeing things is that God does NOT pinpoint every action or occurrence in history or our lives. Instead, God gives us the ability to respond to what happens, and even to work with God to redeem the times.
That's what I think we're seeing this Advent. I'm actually hearing more and more people struggling to find meaning in what we're going through. Some even turn to the riches of our tradition to see how our practice might change lives, ours, and others.
That's more enlightened theology, of course, but it's more than that. You CAN slow down, care for yourself, make loving and proportionate decisions about how to live and celebrate, and reach out in love to at least one other human being.
The New York Times is taking reader comments this week on the question, How do you celebrate the holidays when your loved ones are away? I was struck by one melancholy reply: "I'm usually depressed... I go to church where people say "may peace be with you" and then ignore me."
Wouldn't the world be different-- and a little closer to the love Jesus lived and died for-- if each of us could turn that unhappy moment around, and pay attention to someone who needs that love? If Advent is touching you in this hard year, you'll know what to do.