We stand at the threshold of a new year: a new cycle of remembrance and reflection. This coming Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season and the beginning of the church year. For over 20 years, I’ve tried to write occasional meditations during this season of anticipation. For over 1500 years, the church has observed the Advent season as a time of watching and waiting for the coming of the Lord. Each year, I discover something new from this ancient well of church writings, music, art, and prayers.
As we watch and wait together, we learn afresh the meaning, the hope, the arrival of our Lord in all his glory. We learn from those saints who have gone before us, and we learn from one another as we journey together, share stories and watch for His sudden appearing. I invite you to walk with me and others in this season of watchful prayer. May we exhort one another all the more as we see the day approaching.
How do we practice Advent watching and waiting?
This is a season of contrition or repentance. This seems odd because our whole culture is lighting up their homes and trees for Christmas. People are already feasting and celebration. Most people will wait until the New Year to diet or fast. The church chooses and has chosen for over a thousand years to prepare for the feast of Christmas by fasting and praying now. During the seasons of Lent and Advent, the church practices the disciplines of prayer, fasting, almsgiving. While these disciplines can be practiced anytime throughout the year, Lent and Advent provide extended seasons for the church as a whole to practice these disciplines as a community.
These disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving could be thought as a way of throwing ourselves into the grace of God. They can help increase our awareness of God’s Presence in our midst, His gifts in our lives, and His transforming work in our souls and in the heart of the church. We must always remember that disciplines flow out of love and are not a substitute for the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Here are some ways to think about the disciples during Advent:
While we should always be a people of prayer, we might set aside some time for meditation and examination during the penitential season. This might actually mean stripping away activities in our daily life, but also a stripping away too much of anything that might hinder pausing, listening, waiting before God in the Word. Journaling has always been a key way for me to pray and reflect upon God’s coming and calling in my own life.
We might practice reading the same text (like one of the Sunday lectionary readings) each day of the week. As we read, we pray the text. We listen to the text. We ask God to speak to us. This simple repetition might help increase our awareness of how God is addressing in His Word. Music, art, and reading other Advent reflections has often helped me and I’ve listed a few helpful resources here.
We live in a time of such abundance, fasting can be a way of recognizing God’s provision while also stepping back from our tendency to be gluttons of food, of information, of entertainment, and more.
Fasting in Scripture in most often a communal fast in repentance or in a day of seeking God’s counsel. The church has traditionally fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays because Jesus was betrayed on a Wednesday, and he was crucified on a Friday. This normally means abstaining from meat (and/or cheese and deserts), but it can involve abstaining from all food, or limiting two meals to snacks and eating only one normal meal.
Some adapt this rudimentary fasting practice to include, giving up one food throughout the season. Or modest fasting of other senses like silence while driving, spending evenings without television in the candlelight with soft music, and limiting online interaction to only one time of the day.
Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov speaks of a fast of the eyes that prepares us to behold the beauty of the Lord. By fasting our senses even in modest ways, we might prepare our hearts and minds to encounter the Lord afresh in all five senses.
Giving is a vital discipline throughout the year. During penitential times, it can be a way of thanking God for His provision. Typically, almsgiving includes both time and money. How do we serve the needy in our community and world with our time and money?
This can be one of the most joyous disciplines as we seek creative and faithful ways to give with abundance. It might be as simply as giving larger tips, paying for the groceries and meals of strangers, serving a local charity, and seeking ways to serve the broader world community in giving and in prayer.