By: Rev. Anna Golladay
Like many faith leaders, this week presents an opportunity to sink into the anticipation of the season. We prepare for the coming of the Christ child as we narrate the family drama and political tensions surrounding Joseph and Mary in those days leading up to the birth. For most of our congregants, this story is being heard for tenth, fiftieth, two hundredth time. There are few who will enter our communities and experience the Christmas story for the first time. Oh, we will prepare as if there are (as well we should), but if we are honest, our hope is to retell the story in a way that lends to nuggets of newness, ways others might hear parts anew for the first time. Our key word this month is anticipation. We are preparing. Getting ready. Making a way.
The word advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning come or visit.
Christianity.com says early Advent was about new believers preparing for baptism and looking to Epiphany. By the sixth century, Advent was looking to Christ’s return. And in the Middle Ages, Advent became linked with Christmas. Today, people look forward and back.
And yet, I can’t help but wonder how unattainable that feeling is for most of those in our midst. Heck, how attainable is it for us?
I was having a drink with a pastor friend last week and we were chatting about the preparations her church was making for December. Her list was long – and her anxiety was noticable. As we chatted, I couldn’t help but notice how my body was physically reacting. I was tensing a bit, feeling a touch of weight on my chest. My heart rate was no doubt increasing and, if I’m frank, I found myself grateful that I’m not serving a local congregation right now.
I said to her “it almost sounds like we have actively replaced ‘anticipation’ with another A word – ‘anxiety.'” She chuckled and admitted this shared truth. But this got me thinking about my own anxiety during these days. My list of anxiety-inducing challenges is much longer than normal. And very few of them have anything to do with this holy time of year. The Palestinian Israeli conflict, the increased amount of unhoused folks in my community. The ever-present, unescapable political backdrop and an economy that continues to prioritize the wealthy over the rest of us. And this only a small part of my list.
It remains important that we acknowledge this likely disconnect between our plans for anticipation and our community’s reality of anxiousness. Reframing our anticipation might be necessary. In this, I’m reminded of my late friend Rachel Held Evans and some thoughtful words she wrote about Advent some years ago. “Advent is a season of anticipation, of holy waiting. It is a waiting characterized not by idleness or even contented peace, but by prophetic yieldedness and active hope.”
What might “prophetic yieldedness and active hope” look like in your community?
How might a acknowledgment of our collective anxiety release some of the tension in your pews?
How might we delicately hold the tensions of both very real experiences?