I began to feel the pull of Advent a long time ago: before I knew real sorrow or joy, and before I became a parent and started trying to piece together what this season should be for our family.
The pull is this: a mixture of yearning and being still; of wanting and yet sensing the need to wait. When I started looking at the traditions our family would adopt for Advent, I wanted to find a way to celebrate and symbolize the beauty - and yet, often the deep struggle too - of waiting.
One of my favourite things about being a part of The Meeting House family is being able to quote our three values: peace, simplicity, and community. I firmly believe that these three are the answer to our culture’s most prominent deficits, and I wanted to find a way to talk about these things with my kids during Advent. I decided that we would try to focus on one of these values each week with the realization that we live in a “now and not yet” kind of time.
The first week of Advent we talk about waiting in peace and struggle; the second week, waiting in want and plenty; and the third week, waiting in loneliness and togetherness.
Traditionally, we have talked about waiting in hope throughout on week four, though we may consider moving the weeks around to try and match up with the more traditional: hope, peace, joy, and love candle lightings.
Either way, the focus becomes understanding that some of us are at peace, and some of us are not; some of us have a lot, and some of us have not enough; some of us spend this season in loving relationships, and some of us spend it alone or mourning relationships lost.
This is our third year of working through this sort of pattern. We usually do some kind of readings, songs and/or candle lighting on each Sunday evening, then we have a family activity that is associated with that week’s theme:
- For the week of Peace/Struggle, we have written letters to our sponsor children either as a family or as a home church.
- For Want/Plenty, we take the kids shopping to buy toys they can then donate to a toy drive.
- For Loneliness/Togetherness, we have tried a mixture of things, but this year’s attempt is going to be a kind of stone soup potluck with a couple of our home churches.
This year, I also added in another level of “waiting” for the kids by putting all our Christmas tree ornaments, other Christmas decorations and books, etc. into five different boxes - one for each week of Advent and another for Christmas Eve (that one has the star for the top of the tree in it!). This way, we have a visual way of symbolizing this time of waiting. (It also helps alleviate the guilt related to taking several days in a row to actually finish decorating the tree!)
Like everything else in our family, our Advent celebrations and preparations are a work in progress. This year in particular has been beautiful, yet wearisome and confusing too. Our pre-Advent weeks included the anxiety that surrounds being told the baby we are expecting might be at risk or have significant developmental issues, and just as we were in the midst of being given results in that regard, we found out about the tragic death of an old friend who leaves behind a family with four kids. Our test results came back as a huge blessing and answer to prayer - we now know as best we can that our baby is healthy and developing normally - but we were left to our gratitude in the midst of others’ deep suffering.
How do you celebrate and mourn at the same time?
How do we be with the ones we love when others are prevented from that very blessing?
How can I respond with gratitude when all I want to do is ask God, why?
So I am thankful for Advent this year:
I’m thankful that we are given permission to wait in this time and place that is just so “in between”.
I’m thankful that I don’t have to be happy or “in the Christmas spirit” to know that Jesus is coming.
I’m thankful that Christmas, when we remember his first coming, approaches.
But I am even more thankful that we can confidently look forward to his second coming with that yearning and being still, that wanting and yet knowing it is time to wait.