Most people look forward to Christmas. I look forward to Advent. Advent is the season of spiritual preparation that precedes Christmas. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (this year it is December 2) and goes until Christmas Eve.
The First Sunday of Advent is actually the first day of the Christian calendar, not January first. So, let me be the first to wish you a Happy New Year! Coincidentally both Hanukkah and Advent begin on the same day this year. So Happy Hanukkah, too!
I like Advent because I have it to myself. For the most part it is ignored by American society. Many churches slip right into the Christmas spirit after Thanksgiving Day and miss Advent altogether. In our commercial and secular culture Advent is completely overshadowed by the “holiday season” as Americans prepare for the “Day Which Must Not Be Named,” formerly known as Christmas.
That is just fine with me. I prefer my Advent forgotten by the wider culture. Advent is a time for me to do some introspection. I need it. I am a sinner, and I need time to properly confess and repent. Because I am a writer, my sins tend to be on public display.
Furthermore I am retired and do not lead a congregation. Therefore I do not have congregational feedback to keep my public words in check. These days my prophetic streak is given full rein. I say what I think, and I often overstep my self-imposed boundaries of restraint. Therefore I need Advent more than ever.
Advent – like Lent – is intended to be a time of repentance. That is why the liturgical color for both seasons is purple, the color that represents confession and repentance. At least it used to be purple until some denominations got the bright idea to change the color of Advent to blue, thereby unlinking the connection.
I use Advent to take a good long look at the state of my soul. I always find a generous supply of shortcomings that I need to address before the next year arrives. I gingerly examine them like fragile gifts. Unlike my Christmas presents, I open these with trepidation. This year the biggest box is labeled “Judgmental.”
I cringe, but I need to be honest. I am one of the most judgmental people I know. It makes me wince to remind myself of some of the things I have written and said over the past year.
In my religious, ethical, and political convictions I presumptuously consider myself as wiser than those who disagree with me. Anyone who holds a contrary view is blind for not seeing how right I am. Whew! What a sanctimonious thing to think and to say!
This election year I have often viewed those on “the other side” of the issues as morally bankrupt, politically naïve, if not downright deceitful and dangerous to the future of our country. See how arrogant and self-righteous that is? What makes me any better than any other American citizen?
When it comes to religious and theological matters my smugness is even more deep-seated, because I am more educated and experienced in this field than most people. But that is no guarantee against self-deception. The truth is that I am just as likely to be the one who is morally depraved and spiritually blind.
Forgive me, Lord, for my arrogance. The ancient “Jesus Prayer” is my daily companion this December: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I say it every morning and fall to sleep with it on my lips. It is the only thing that keeps me from falling headlong into a self-imposed hell of self-righteousness.
Being overly judgmental is just the first item on my Advent list of things that need to be confessed. I have 23 more days to go. It is going to be a long Advent. Fortunately for my readers I will keep the rest of my sins private between my Lord and me. I can’t wait for Christmas and the celebration of divine grace and salvation.
I invite you to take this Advent journey with me. We all could use some introspection. A couple of days at the end of the year formulating New Year’s resolutions is not sufficient for the seriousness of this spiritual task. I invite you to let this month be about more than holiday decorations, gatherings, food, music, programs, greeting cards and gift exchanges. Make it about a deeper and more self-aware spiritual life.