Though it is hardly December, we are quickly moving through Advent this year. Sunday was the 2nd Sunday in Advent on just December 4th.
I was sitting at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet again this week, chatting with parents while casually checking emails. The topic of Christmas came up and as a pastor, non-religious folks sometimes take the opportunity to ask about my work. One of the parents asked when the Christmas busy-ness ramps up. I replied that it isn’t in November like most of the world, but that Christmas doesn’t technically start until December 25th and it is 12 days long ending with Epiphany on January 6th.
Right now the church is observing Advent, which looks like Christmas with wreaths and lights and trees, but is more about preparing and waiting, more about being small and contained than the over-the-top celebration that is Christmas. I also noted that this year is what some of my colleagues call “Pastor’s Christmas.”
Normally, there is less than a week between the 4th Sunday in Advent and Christmas Eve. In fact, the 4th Sunday can be as late as Christmas Eve morning. This means Advent 4, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services all fall within the span of 24 hours. Three different sermons, three different services in succession.
Even still, Advent 4, with Christmas Eve on Tuesday or Wednesday, means a few days to prepare for Christmas services and only a few days after for the first Sunday of Christmas.
But this year, there is time. Luxurious time. Christmas Eve isn’t until Saturday night leaving an entire week following Advent 4 to prepare. Christmas Day falls on Sunday morning, meaning that there is a full week until the first Sunday of Christmas.
Yes, Christmas is always December 24th/25th, but it feels more moveable than Easter (which is called the moveable feast). Easter’s date may change, but it is always on Sunday, Good Friday always on Friday. The experience of timing is consistent during Holy Week regardless of the date.
But our experience of timing in Advent and Christmas can be widely different every year (next year the fourth Sunday in Advent will be on Christmas Eve morning!).
And maybe this varied experience of Advent and Christmas each year is connected to the theme of the season. The quirky realties of dates and days of the week and how they align to create different experiences speak to what it means to wait and watch.
In Advent, we begin our waiting and watching for Messiah, we remember the people of Israel longing and hoping for Salvation. We consider people going out into the wilderness – where time can get fuzzy – to find good news. We journey with Mary as she receives the news she is pregnant. An experience that is largely not in control of the one who is pregnant, where the ones who are waiting for the new child must live on the child’s timing.
The timing of Advent, the beginning to our liturgical year, reminds us that we are not in control but that we live according to the divine timing. And God doesn’t check with our calendars before initiating God’s plans for creation. Like anyone waiting for a child to be born, things happen on a schedule that is not our own.
Advent teaches us to live waiting and watching for God, to expect God at any moment and that God will come when God comes.
But more importantly Advent carries with it a promise – God is on the way. Messiah will be here soon.