For those of us in the Christian tradition, we are in Advent Season. Advent is a four-week lead-up to Christmas. I must admit, I enjoyed learning about this stuff since Quakers are not very liturgical. I am pretty confident I never heard about the “liturgical year” until my college days. It was that time in college when I became aware of what so many who grow up in the Roman Catholic tradition, Episcopal and Lutheran traditions, take for granted. Advent is the beginning of the Christmas season and matches, in some real way, Lent as the lead-up to the Easter season.
The primary theme of Advent is “preparation.” People are supposed to begin the preparation for the coming of Christmas. It is easy these days to see how bent-out-of-shape our preparation has become. These days preparation is likely to mean the beginning stress of Christmas shopping, etc. I already begin to sense the frenzy in some voices of those who talk about “taking all Saturday” to get the gifts that many feel obligated to buy.
Of course, I am too harsh on this. I know Christmas is the highlight of many people’s lives. It means kids who come home. It means family time. And it means so many other good things. I do not belittle this for a moment. Those are treasured times. I hope to get my fair share of that experience, too.
But I am also convinced that Advent is something different that trips to the shopping center as preparation for Christmas. Advent is meant to be a spiritual thing. It is meant to prepare our hearts and souls for the coming season of Light. I can see why this takes four weeks! Heck, I think it will take me a lifetime!
A few weeks ago, I went to the annual Advent celebration sponsored by my College German Department. Once upon a time, I was fairly fluent in German. As with most things, when you don’t practice something, it becomes rusty and less useful. I never go to this occasion with a resolve to study German in order to reach fluency again. That would be a great skill, but it would take time and I am not sure that is the most effective use of the time I have.
But I do appreciate the chance to go into an experience where I basically know what is going on, but not sufficiently to be sure I know exactly what is going on. This distinction I am trying to make here is an important one. It is subtle, but important for me. And I realize how well it describes the life of the Spirit for me---and maybe for many folks.
When I get honest about my life in the Spirit, I suspect it is a bit like my use of German now. Basically, I know what is going on. I can know the importance of prayer, of taking time in meditation, and so on. I get it when the student began reading “Das Wort ward Fleisch”…(“The Word became flesh…”) But my life in the Spirit can be just this: listening passively, understanding somewhat, and do nothing.
But the life of the Spirit can be more…can be so much more if I were able to know exactly what is going on. This level takes me beyond merely listening. For sure, it goes way beyond passive listening. The authentic life of the Spirit is a call to action---a move from hearing to obedience.
The life of the Spirit is more. It calls for deep understanding. The life of the Spirit requires understanding that the spiritual adventure (ah, “advent!”) is an understanding so deep that I am transformed. It is always bringing me to new Christmases---to new beginnings and new/re-newed life.
The new Christmas to which this adventure leads does not result in an “oh goody!” Christmas response. It leads to Hallelujah!