I love Advent. It is far and away my favorite season of the liturgical year. I love everything about it, from the scripture readings to the sense of anticipation to the themes of justice and mercy that anchor the season. Advent is my time to go deeper, to slow down, and to recalibrate.
Advent’s recalibration is the counterbalance I need to help moderate the incessant consumer advertising that comes at us everywhere we turn in December. And while the shopping centers are already bedecked with Christmas in all its glory, I enjoy welcoming the arrival of Christmas with a more deliberate and intentional pace and spirit.
“Daddy, why do we have blue lights up on our house when everyone else has pretty Christmas lights?” This question was posed to me years ago when my daughter Michelle was about four years old. She had noticed the multicolor lights adorning the houses in our neighborhood and was befuddled by my choice of solid blue (a substitute for purple which was not to be found anywhere back in the day). I explained to her, with patience and a bit of delight, how we were in a season of preparation, a season of quiet anticipation and waiting. We would have “pretty lights” soon, but for now our color choice of blue lights told the world we were not there yet. That the arrival of Christmas, the celebration of the 12 Days was still some weeks away.
In those days, we also took it one step further to mark the season of Advent for the kids. Knowing that we needed to offer an additional, practical, and visual countersign to what they were experiencing as they left the house and engaged the wider world, our second choice was to use the Christmas tree as a teaching lesson.
Each year on the First Sunday of Advent, after I had finished putting up the blue lights on the outside of the house, we purchased a fresh tree and set it up in the living room. We also took a family walk and found greenery of the season and brought it home. This greenery was built into the Advent wreath, a circle of light and prayer that would anchor us for four weeks of waiting.
Finally, it was time to decorate the tree. We gathered with eggnog and cookies and decorated the tree. We decked it with purple and gold bows and purple and gold ornaments. No Christmas lights yet. No Christmas ornaments yet. Those would have to wait.
We prayed our first Advent prayer together around the Advent wreath. We listened to the readings. We talked about waiting. We learned about justice and mercy. And we set our internal timer for four weeks. The culture around us may already be in full Christmas mode. But we would wait. We would slow down. We would listen. And we would prepare and hope.
“Hey Guerra, why are you taking down your lights? It’s only December 24th!” asked one of my neighbors years ago. The day had arrived. The waiting was soon to be over. Time to take down blue lights outside and put up the brightest and shiniest Christmas lights ever. Time to take off purple and gold bows, purple and gold ornaments from the tree, and bedazzle it with multicolor lights and all the favorite Christmas ornaments. And it was time to say goodbye to purple and pink candles on the wreath and replace them with white candles. Advent was closing. The great 12 Days were ahead.
If we are to open ourselves to “the dangers of Advent,” as J.B. Phillips calls it, it makes sense to me that we need practical rituals that shake up our complacent and complicit mind and spirit. My wish for all of us this season is a hope that our community will be a light to the world, showing a different way, living at a different pace. Advent is our chance to listen, to anticipate, rather than to rush into Christmas without having prepared a space to receive the message of the gentle revolution of love.