For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance …
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4
I grew up with a strong sense of waiting and anticipation. My father was a pilot in the United States Navy for nearly 30 years. While we lived in several places around the country as well as a number of years in Morocco, Africa, my dad’s ‘office’ was the cockpit of an airplane and his ‘campus’ was the globe. Every deployment brought the hope of homecoming, and every homecoming included the possibility of another deployment. It was during the deployments that I learned to wait with anticipation, to prepare with hope for my dad’s homecoming. And when the waiting was over and he finally arrived, there was much to celebrate.
One homecoming stands out.
My dad had been gone for many weeks and, as I recall, was not scheduled to return for several more weeks. My mom measured the passage of time by counting holidays instead of months, weeks and days. Counting the three holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed much more manageable than counting six to nine months. The way I measured time was far simpler. There was “right now” and there was “a long time from right now.” It was a Friday night and my mom and I were on our way home from The Big Josh, a favorite pizza joint not far from our home near McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. I couldn’t have possibly appreciated the delicious irony of the name of that restaurant at that point in my life, but at some point near the last turn on to our street, I turned to my mom and said, “Wouldn’t it just be great if, when we got home, Daddy was there waiting for us?” It wasn’t more than a few moments later after that final turn onto the street where we lived that my mom suddenly stepped on the gas and sounded the car horn as the headlights of our car illuminated the tail lights of my dad’s car parked in front of our house.
He was home! The waiting and anticipating was over, the preparing had given way to the celebration.
Advent has arrived and with it the invitation to wait, anticipate, prepare, hope and prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ. And the more we immerse ourselves into the season of Advent, the more meaningful the season of Christmas will be for those who invest the time. Having fully immersed ourselves in Advent and Christmas, the season of Epiphany takes on a whole new meaning. Conversely, if we simply ignore Advent—skip over it, get pulled into the vortex of the “Holiday Season”—into the fast pace of our culture’s take on “the-season-between-Thanksgiving-and-Christmas,” we’ll be left wondering, but not about the things that really matter.
In his book, Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner offers a compelling image of what it means to approach the season of Advent:
The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised the baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.
With that, it seems rather obvious that to miss that moment would be to miss most, if not all of the wonder of the season—the seasons just ahead.
The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany invite us into the rich details and rhythms of life. Among them: waiting, hoping, birthing, living, reflecting, and growing. Even dying and rising are part of the celebrating the details and rhythms of life as followers of Christ. These first three seasons of the Church year—Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, invite us into these details and rhythms and invite us to look more deeply at who we are and who God is in the midst of our lives.
As these seasons unfold meeting us in the midst of our hectic days filled with plans for gatherings and celebrations, we’re invited into something greater, something far more wonderful. We’re invited into the rhythms of life and joy that these days reveal. We’re invited in—not merely to observe. We’re invited in—not simply to watch the days go by—waiting for one day to end so that another day can begin. We’re invited to walk deeply into each of the coming seasons—not to find God, but rather to be found by the Mystery of the Story of God coming among us.
These are joyous seasons filled with waiting, hoping, birthing, living, reflecting, growing; even dying and rising. These are seasons of joy!
You’re invited to come along on a journey through the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. This will be a journey of waiting, anticipating and preparing for a celebration of light and life. This, in turn will point us toward the Epiphany, the revealing of Christ, God among us, God with us, God through us, God for us.