Advent is an interesting season. Non-Christians may not know what it is, or have seen DIY advent wine wreaths on Pinterest celebrating an unknown season. Christians probably know it as the month before Christmas when pastors preach about preparing and waiting for the birth of Jesus in a world that can’t wait for presents. In the Catholic Church, it is a season of purple-wearing priests.
In America, Advent fits nicely into the space between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Very convenient. But what does it mean for us?
Last year I ventured to make my own Advent wreath in an attempt to more deeply understand the season. [There has to be more to these four Sundays than merely passing the time until Christmas morning and the celebration of capitalism. I mean Christianity’s birth. Right?] I found several different themes used by different people and sects, and I chose one to use for my wreath.
The first Sunday is Expectation. What do I expect from this season? I expect to spend a lot of money on presents and a lot of time wrapping them. I expect to fully unpack my winter clothes, and I expect to decorate my apartment. This year in particular, I expect to spend many weekends at various celebrations, and expect to hear big news about my future.
But I suppose writing them out puts the season into perspective for me. My expectations for the season of Advent have little or nothing to do with my faith, Christmas, or living like Jesus. And it seems that if I have the motivation to make an Advent wreath and then blog about it, I should expect more from the month. So upon reflecting further, I realized:
What I do not expect is an encounter with God.
Phew. I said it.
This year has not been an easy one for me, and to be honest, if I had it my way we would skip the next month and it would just be 2017. My understanding of God has been challenged this year beyond what I ever could have expected. I’m sure eventually I’ll come out more knowledgeable, but right now I still feel upside down. So I suppose I expect to just survive for the next month.
But, in a weird way, perhaps the best way to start the wait for God’s arrival is to honestly lay out my expectations of what that means. If I am open about my expectations, hopefully it leaves me open to see them transcended. Or at the very least, I can figure out what to do with them.
I could have probably written something more upbeat and encouraging for the holiday season, I know, but the cat’s out of the bag now so I’m just going to dive in headfirst. What does it mean to be in a state of expectation when you’ve spent all year watching your expectations be crushed, and you’re hanging on by an emotional thread? And how do you create expectations for God, once you realize your understanding of Him is complex and impossible? How do you expect something, or someone, whose image and role has drastically changed with your worldview?
Let me expand on that last part. Over the past few months, my perception of God, Jesus, and religion has changed and expanded drastically. Where I was skeptical previously, I can now see God (and even Jesus) in all things, even in areas I never thought I could. The catch is, I see them differently within these things than I thought I would.
I will never write that these changes in perception and belief are bad; I think they have been awesome and exciting to think about. Unfortunately, it sends me back to square one for trusting God.
Have you ever learned something shocking about a friend you’ve known for years? After you learn this piece of information, do you run through your years of friendship mentally with a whole frameshift, and everything feels a little off? And then you have to relearn who this person is, to an extent, because they are different than you originally thought.
This is where I am in my faith. I have learned new things about God and know more of Him and the world, but I have to take a step back now and relearn what my relationship with Him is. I’m in the process of reliving my past in light of this new information, and then have to rebuild trust with a God that has drastically changed in character to me. No wonder my expectations for the season are so…vanilla.
I really don’t know the answer to this dilemma. But I do expect [ha ha] to delve deeper into it as the Advent season progresses. I suppose I will just have to wait and see what happens.