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11 December, 2011

TIS THE "WAITING" SEASON OF ADVENT

"The vision will be fulfilled in its own time.  If it seems slow in coming, wait for it, for it will surely come."
I dare say that the current Season of Advent goes unobserved by the majority in today's society, yet it is as significant and as old as the Christmas day that we celebrate on the 25th of December.


The general topic of Advent in our churches today is the coming of Jesus, both in the manger in Bethlehem and in the clouds of glory.  Roughly speaking, the Western Church celebrating Advent, consists of Protestants, Catholics and Anglicans.

Advent candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of Jesus.  The candles are lit in churches every Sunday during the Advent period so that the last week before Christmas all four candles are lit. The remaining central candle, representing Christ, is then lit on Christmas day.


Advent originated as a period during which Christian converts prepared themselves for baptism through instruction, prayer, fasting and, much like Lent.  The length of Advent varied from three days to six weeks, or approximately the 40 days that Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry.


In the west during the Middle Ages, Advent became a time to prepare for the Second Coming, because in those days many people were convinced that all signs pointed to the imminent return of Christ.  In time, Advent spread throughout the western world and became fixed at its present length.  Over the last 50 years, Advent has come to anticipate the Nativity as well.  For many people today however, especially those in the commercial world, Advent is simply a ramp-up to Christmas.


I think is is fair to say that almost everyone in our society experiences the weeks leading up to Christmas as a time of waiting.  Waiting for a parking space.  Waiting for a bargain. Waiting for a visiting relative.  Waiting for a treasured Christmas greeting.  Waiting for a quiet evening.  Waiting for the holidays.  Waiting for social gatherings. It is little wonder that waiting for the birth of Jesus has lost its impact.  It has been lost in the hustle and bustle of the shuffle.  After the turkey has been cleared away and gifts exchanged on Christmas day, most experience a letdown feeling like "after all  that preparation and it is over in a flash!"


A minister shares a recent experience when she gathered with the young folk of her congregation for the children's time a the front of the church.  She asked the intent little ones:  "Who here likes to wait?"  One innovative and confident young fellow put up his hand, and, when acknowledged, replied: "I like to wait when I am facing something I don't like."


How profound.  Out of the mouths of youngsters often come the most insightful truths we will ever learn.


If you are not eager to experience the "waiting season' of Advent, maybe there is something in your life that you simply do not want to face.  Is it the end of a school semester and the uncertainty about what comes next?  Is it the struggles around  health, or the interminable wait for results from recent medical tests?  Do you fear a performance evaluation at work, or a retirement that looms on the horizon?  Do you fear getting a job at all?  Do you fear the future with a partner who has been abusive and mean, or the future of your child who seems too timid and shy to make it in the world?


Often, how we act in the face of our fears determines how we can cope with the challenges of life. It is no wonder that the angel's message whispered in Mary's ear was a simple one: "Don't be afraid." Even our joys are made more real when we know what it is like to face and conquer adversity without fear and loathing.

Advent, the waiting and hoping time leading up to Christmas, is a time when various stories of the birth of Jesus get retold and relived. Jesus' birth was hardly an easy one. The experience of the main characters within that story, whichever biblical verses are deemed closest to the reality of the times, understandably was filled with anxiety and fear. Through it all, however, Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the other main characters managed to find their way through it. They often waited -- waited for a clear message that would remove their doubts and fears.


As a culture, we seek instant answers. We might be better off waiting every now and then: looking for new insights, prepared to listen to wise counsel from mentors and elders, eager to accept the fact that there may be, indeed, a new and better way to proceed.


Can we wait for those peace-filled, quiet moments where truth will be revealed, and a still, small voice will speak to us in profound ways? If we can, then we have figured out at least part of the message of Advent. At the very least, the journey to Christmas should be more hopeful and less stressful when we can find moments for renewal and rest within this time of year.

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