Advent means Arrival. For the Church, this season of Advent is a precious set of days leading up to Christmas which, when practiced intentionally, prepares the heart for honest worship, for awe, and for nearness with God. Why then does Advent often feel more like a Hallmark holiday than a powerful season of spiritual revival? Why, often despite our best intentions, are our Christmas’s remembered mostly for something or someone other than Jesus, and His birth?
Writing on a very similar topic, Pastor Aaron Damiani wrote a book a few years back about the importance of Lent as a preparation period of the heart for Easter. In this book Aaron wrestles through why our hearts despite our highest ambitions often fail to allow Easter to shine as a moment of awe and worship. His insights are helpful:
“We have been secretly snacking on lesser stories – such as politics or our children’s athletic success. In theory the gospel is compelling, but in reality we would rather pay attention to whatever Netflix is offering. We are so full on the junk food of our culture that we cannot metabolize the feast on our Easter plates.”Aaron Damiani. The Good of Giving Up. Page 23.
St. Augustine, says Aaron, actually had a term for this distraction of the soul: incurvatus in se, which means, “curved in on oneself.” Rather than posturing our hearts through the disciplined and repetitive practices that shape the soul and mind towards the beauty and majesty of Jesus, we have quite literally curved in on ourselves. In a sense we have accumulated disordered loves, which in turn have lead us to disordered lives. This is not to say that the mundane and normal stories of our lives and our world, the moments that make up our day to day, are somehow unimportant or unreal. It is to say that if we are not careful we can allow ourselves to forget that each and every lesser story is significant only because it plays a part of the much larger story of Christ and His Kingdom. We must from time to time reorient ourselves back to our center.
Reorientation becomes one of the great opportunities of Advent. It is an annual repeated liturgy of the heart set apart and devoted to preparation and re-centering of the heart and the mind to the things of Christ. While this process can and should be one that is lived out each day as a follower of Christ; Advent gives the body of Christ a meaningful space to corporately prepare, to filter the lesser stories of our everyday lives and to place them within the context of the greater story, the infant Christ born to die.
It is not too late to begin an intentional Advent. Seek the Lord with all your heart. Pull away from your distractions if even for a moment. Put down your phone and your tablet. Open the Word of God and rest in the sweet and precious promise of your salvation.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”Isaiah 9:6–7, ESV