Practicing Anticipation in this Season of Advent — Nicholas Tangen
Advent is one of my very favorite liturgical seasons, with practices focused on preparation and the announcement that Christ the Messiah, is about to show up. My wife and I have a large, make-shift, Advent wreath that we set up on the dining room table, and each Sunday we slow down, say compline together, and light one of the candles as we near the Christmas feast.
This Advent practice and the others that accompany this season like fasting and scripture reading, have always felt like counterweights to the excesses and urgency of American Christmas traditions. Advent reminds us that to prepare for the coming of Christ is to set aside our attachments and to ground ourselves in prayer and service.
Waiting in Advent
Often, congregations will focus on themes of “waiting” in Advent — waiting on the Christ-child, waiting for the world-as-it-should-be, waiting on the coming of Christ in glory. In fact, one of my favorite hymns to sing in Advent is “Wait for the Lord” from the Taize Community. We wait for Jesus, whose day — the day of the Lord — is near.
But, that word “waiting” has also struck me as insufficient for this season — maybe because I frequently get bogged down in the meaning of individual words, but also because of the way we commonly think about what it means to wait. When I think of waiting, an image comes to mind of someone sitting on a bench in a mall, scrolling through their phone, looking up every few minutes to see if their friend has arrived. While that may say something about my own tendencies as an introvert, I think the image speaks to what I mean. I think we often think of waiting as a passive activity.
Waiting as we commonly mean it conjures images of staying put, inactivity, maybe even worry and anxiety. Waiting asks very little of us, and everything of the one on whom we wait. While we know that Christ moves into the neighborhood whether we act or not, we also know that what we are being called to in Advent is anything but passive.
Preparing in Advent
On the other hand, congregations may focus on themes of “preparation” in this season of Advent. Like waiting, this is another great word for us to meditate on in these four weeks. This theme is consistent with those words from Isaiah that the New Testament associates with John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Preparation is certainly not passive and reminds me of my mother’s intense cleaning regimen ahead of holidays and events where friends or family would be visiting the house.
But whereas waiting puts all the focus on the activity of the one for whom we wait, a theme of preparation can over focus on our activity without acknowledging the activity of the one we are to welcome. While we know that Christ’s coming brings justice and judgement, we can also be sure that the love of God is granted whether we have “done all the things” or not.
To be clear, waiting and preparing, preparing and waiting, these are good and holy ways of stepping into the Advent season and I know many of our congregations will find meaningful ways of engaging these practices in prayer, study, and fellowship. But as we begin this Christian New Year, I find myself seeking out a practice and a way of being that captures the goodness and beauty of waiting and preparing. Something that is grounded in God’s action, and in our active response to that action. Something that resists passive waiting and busy preparation.
Anticipating in Advent
So, in 2021 my Advent meditation will be on themes of “anticipation”. Again, this may be a preoccupation with words, but as I’ve been reflecting on my own Advent practices and my sense of what God is calling us to in this moment, the word anticipation has risen to the top of my prayers and has become my intention for this time of Christ’s approach.
Anticipation looks out across the world with eyes trained to see Jesus and the Beloved Community that follows. It sees beyond the next wave of COVID19 and the brokenness of our systems and institutions and sees the day when there is healing and wholeness throughout, and celebrates the certainty of that future. Anticipation joyfully sets the table and invites neighbors, friends, and family to gather with eagerness and intention. It practices generosity and abundance in accordance with what will be. Anticipation is faithfulness and excited readiness in response to God’s immeasurable promises.
As I begin to meditate on what it means to practice anticipation this Advent, I am wondering what it will look like to model this in congregations and households. I have a few initial thoughts, but I am looking forward to encountering even more suggestions and opportunities. Here’s a few I’m thinking of currently:
- Engage intentionally with some of the classic Advent spiritual practices like fasting (check out this post about practices of self-denial from 2019) and devotional reading (you can find the liturgical calendar and lectionary readings here). Bring an excited and joyful intention to these practices and encourage your fellow community members in theirs.
- Like Sundays during Lent, let Sundays in Advent become meaningful and joyful times to break the fast. When you light the Advent candle, break out the good food and drink and invite loved ones to enjoy. Rehearsing the abundant and joyful community that is to come is one of the most powerful ways for us to embody anticipation.
- Learn more about how other cultures celebrate the season of Advent and remember that God’s coming Kingdom will be composed of a beautiful tapestry of practices, communities, and experiences. Also, learn more about your own culture’s celebration of the season. You may find something meaningful in your own ancestry that you were previously unaware of.
- Study scripture in community during the Advent season, with an interpretive eye focused on those texts and stories that say something about the coming of God’s Beloved Community and the ministry of Jesus Christ. This is a great time to pick up that Bible that has been sitting on your corner table since your congregation’s last Bible Study, and to invite some friends to dig in together.
I think anticipation is just the right word for me to meditate on this Advent. Over the last two years I have been, like so many of you, bombarded by feelings of incapacity and freneticism. I’ve felt simultaneously despairing and determined. And through it all, joy and excitement have become more and more challenging feelings to experience. But Advent calls us to look out at the world around us and see the immense beauty and jubilation of God’s inbreaking Kingdom.
This Advent join me in reclaiming joyful anticipation as a spiritual practice and a way of being. Christ is coming, and the Beloved Community is coming with him. Thanks be to God!
Originally published at https://nicholastangen.com on November 29, 2021.