I find it difficult to think of a singularly favorite season of the church year. For me, the sequence of seasons and their themes give a sense of time’s movement. Somehow, their changing moods reinforce my sense that my own faith is not static, but continues to grow and to change in unexpected ways. I find myself feeling hopeful in this unfolding of the unknown, excited and curious about what new understandings or emotions will be coming to me. Though, I recognize that this uncertainty can instead be stressful for many people, as well. Because hope seems to be a particularly strong emotion for me, I can say that advent holds special meaning for me.
Often, advent incorporates imagery of death and dying. This is a natural theme provided by the onset of winter. Trees drop their greenery, vegetation seems to die, and the world becomes cold. And we often associate springtime with a theme of new life. Theologically, we can enter the Scripture narratives of God’s people crying out for Messiah, Herod’s decrees, and the taking of life. But yet I find myself thinking of deep sleep. Much of the greenery we see fading will really be springing forth again, and to me that continuity is like sleep, with anticipation of spring. And despite the appearance of death, unseen changes and processes are happening. So, I find myself applying that metaphor to my faith experience as I described earlier. And I also suggest that this is like another of the holy dichotomies we embrace as Lutherans – more theology of the cross.
During advent, I find our midweek candlelight services to have special meaning to me. Normally we share worship on Sunday morning, as a time of equipping for the challenges and pressures of the new week. And this can be a stressful unknown. But for midweek worship, we often use an evening prayer liturgy. This allows me to reflect on God having brought us safely to the close of day, and we ask him to watch us safely through the night. Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow is a favorite hymn of mine for these worship services. Because God really has brought us through the day, it feels like proof that God really has kept his promises yet again.
Lastly, the proximity of advent to Christmas is exciting to me, as Christmas really is my favorite holiday. Carols, traditions, decorating the tree, all give me joy, and advent marks the approach of the holiday. But somehow, the oncoming holiday does not manage to overshadow the significance of advent itself, and advent still gives me time and quiet to focus inwardly, and to wonder about what new work God will work in me. As Isaiah proclaims, God is doing a new thing, and I hope to perceive it.