“Let you face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.” Ps. 80:7
Dear Redeemer Family:
In two days, it will be Thanksgiving. Three days later, it will be Christ the King Sunday, and the completion of yet another Church Year. For the following Sunday will be the First Sunday in Advent. My how the time has flown by! But, a year is a cycle. Each season has its own themes and emphases. Advent is both a wonderful and a challenging season. We begin a new Church Year while the world is busy finishing a calendar year – and the month is filled with shopping, pageants, and parties beyond what our energy and time can handle. But while society urges us to hurry and spend; scripture and tradition beckon us to slow down and wait. The hard part of this time of year is to focus and wait.
Enter the wheel. Author, theologian, and artist Gertrud Mueller Nelson doesn’t tire in her enthusiasm for the Advent wreath as the season’s most powerful symbol. She wrote about its significance in her book, To Dance with God, and now in her eighties speaks of it with the same passion. The wreath can be traced to the Romans’ ancient rite of waiting in the darkness for the return of the sun, and for the Feast of the Sun on December 25. The ancients, Nelson says, took a wheel off their wagons and fastened torches to it to see them through the darkness. The only thing alive in the winter, evergreen, was brought inside and fastened to the wheel. To those huddled in darkness, it was a sign of vegetation and springtime. More than three hundred years ago, German Christians fashioned the same elements into the Advent wreath – the greens a sign of hoper and eternity. What was once a Feast of the Sun has become for us the Feast of the Son.
Today our Advent wreaths are often purchased, as are Advent calendars. Even the local secular bookstores have those (sometimes filled with chocolate). Both are symbols and tools of what Advent urges us to do: mark the passage of time as we wait. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Advent is about the art of waiting. But holiday decorations have been on some store shelves since well before Halloween (I can think of one place that had them up in August!), and the world declares virtually everything after Thanksgiving Day the “Christmas season.”
Thou all of us are tempted to ace otherwise, now is the time for slowing down and leaning together. As with the ancients, we gather in darkness to wait for the light. If our ancestors removed a wagon wheel for torchlight, consider what it would be like for us to take a wheel off our car, truck, or minivan. Instead of rushing to the stores or a mall, we would stay home but also gather with friends to sing ancient hymns and hear readings of prophecy and promise.
This season of Advent, slow down and wait. Slow down, or you may miss the importance of the season. Wait, wait for the coming of the light. For it comes to us shining in the face of the child in Bethlehem.