Advent Anticipation, a Discipline of Joy

Mark Ditmanson

This week many congregations in many Christian denominations will begin the season of Advent. I encourage all to attend one of our churches to find its blessings.

One of the best-known customs for the season is the Advent wreath. The wreath and winter candle lighting alone in the midst of the growing darkness is a practice of turning in the opposite direction spiritually and emotionally. Just to light a candle is a therapy in dark winter evenings. But by faith, we invest much more into the Advent wreath. As the world appears darker, Advent joy and hope burn brighter week by week. To look at the wreath, we obviously see an unbroken circle, when adorned with evergreens both become a wonderful image of everlasting life.

Christians use the wreath adorned with candles as a representation of how Christ enters our world bringing the light of love, the joy of new beginnings and even leading us to the light of everlasting life. The four candles mark the progress of the four weeks before the celebration of the birth of Christ making our time of waiting for a progression of increase and the growth of light. In many homes an Advent wreath is used before family Sabbath dinner time as a special devotion before or after the table grace is said. Such a practice certainly forges a strong link between home and church but also affirms the family table as a place of rich blessing focusing on the presence of Christ among us.

Another iconic symbol of the season is the custom of keeping an Advent calendar. Recently our church gave an Advent calendar to each child who attends or visits. By opening one door or window on the calendar each day in the 25-day count to Christmas, the calendar becomes a practice of anticipation with discipline. I know that it is hard for many children to resist peeking behind the next window. And as adults, we also know how hard it can be to wait.

The theme of the Advent calendar we gave this year is part of the Hunger Appeal and expresses the hope and anticipation that by following God’s word our world may become a better place for all of God’s children. Each window opens to a song or passage of scripture or the experience of someone whose life has been made better by the gifts of people making faith active in love.

The other distinctive touch setting Advent apart in all our churches are the prayers and the Bible readings. The first prayer for Advent’s first Sunday, “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come,” echoes the Psalm appointed for the first Sunday, Psalm 80:2 “stir up your strength and come to help us.” The prayers and the readings all lean into a hoped-for future filled with equity, justice, and goodness for all. There is a faith and trust expressed that God is with us and we can anticipate goodness and love to increase.

The prayers and readings however also carry a tone of lament and need of repentance for how far we have drifted and wandered from God’s good goal of “peace on earth and goodwill toward all.” The prayers are honest in recognizing our own participation in the way things go wrong in families, communities, and the world. The readings remind us that human sin indeed has a long, long history. And so these also contribute to our practice of anticipation with discipline. Faith requires patience, commitment, and endurance while we wait and actively seek the goodness of God.

The season of Advent directs us forward to what God will yet accomplish. In the process, all the readings and all the practices emphasize the shape faith takes as Christians wait for the fulfilling of God in the day of Jesus Christ. Waiting in Advent hope is not a passive or static activity, even though we do encourage slowing down and spending quality time in the spirit. Advent anticipation is captured in the hopeful practice of lighting one more candle of hope, opening one more window of goodness, and in faith and joy, living each day closer to the Lord of light and love.

Each month a member of the Cook County Ministerium will offer Spiritual Reflections. This month our contributor is Reverend Mark Ditmanson of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Grand Marais.

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