As we approach the end of 2016, I have to admit, I am weary.
I’m weary of thinking, weary of working, weary of believing in all the “little mores” of life – a “little more” information to help us solve the problem, a “little more” effort (intellectual, political or moral) so we can fix the unfixable. It’s enough to make your head hurt. And then I started thinking. Perhaps its time to re-engage some of the wisdom of a bygone era. Maybe its time to reconsider some of our timeless traditions.
According to the liturgical calendar, we are in the third week of Advent – the fourth week begins tomorrow. I know this because Maylannee and I are attempting to take part in Advent this year in some meaningful way (think Advent for Dummies). We started by making our own Advent wreath (wreath, plus five candles, three thin white, one thin pink and one fat white one). With each candle, one lit for each Sunday leading up to Christmas, we reflect on the given theme for the week: Hope, Love, Joy or Peace and then we say a prayer, asking God to help us keep our hearts open to him. The last big candle is the Christmas candle, that we will light on Christmas Day.
The theme for the first week of Advent is hope. Hope is the invitation and the doorway into the Advent season. [On a parallel note, I was pleased to discover this week that Rogue One was a most impressive segue to the original Star Wars movie: A New Hope]. Now the tricky thing about hope is that it involves waiting for the person or thing that you are hoping in. And as we all know, the problem with waiting is that every five minutes there comes the frustrated voice from the back seat of your mind asking, “how much longer!?” There is also the proverb, which warns of the dark side of hope, “hope deferred make the heart sick.”
So Advent is a call to wait, but for how long, and for what or for whom are we waiting? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while sitting in his solitary jail cell in a Nazi prison, wrote a letter to his dear friend Eberhard Bethge in which he said this about Advent,
“Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent, in which one waits, hopes, and does this that or the other – things that are really of no consequence – the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison 135.
Bonhoeffer’s prison cell letter reminds us that the waiting of Advent is not merely passive resignation or mindless boredom. The waiting of Advent is a mindset and a discipline of the heart. Advent is our response to an invitation to slow down, to still our anxious hearts, to rest and to wait. Our response to this invitation involves placing our hearts, with all its hopes and fears in the care of someone greater than ourselves, someone who is uniquely able and graciously willing to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Someone who will open the cell door from the outside.