My body seemed to know that I needed to follow the pattern of the liturgical year long before my mind did.
For those who might not know, the liturgical year is the annual seasonal pattern of the Christian year. It begins around the first of December with Advent, celebrates Christmas and Epiphany, moves into the quiet time of Lent in the weeks prior to Easter, climaxes Easter through Pentecost, and then settles into “ordinary time” until it’s time for Advent again.
I had always been aware of Advent, of course. But for most of my life, it meant a calendar with little doors for my children to open and consume chocolate before breakfast for the days of December. And there surely were some memorable Advent incidents—the year the dog got ahold of one calendar and consumed the chocolate (which fortunately did not make her sick but did mean that my sons had to alternate days instead of getting a chocolate apiece each day. I’m pretty sure they’ve never gotten over it.); or the year I was busy and forgot to go to Trader Joe’s before the calendars sold out and had to improvise a much more chocolate-intensive and expensive Advent experience. But the possibilities of deeper meaning were limited to cheesy, cheery talk-about-Jesus-and-read-a-bible-verse-a-day sorts of things.
My body, however, was listening to an older, deeper, much more meaningful story. As the days grew shorter, I found that I wanted to settle in, be quiet, reflect, and deepen, in dramatic contrast to the cultural adrenaline rush of the party/shopping/event orientation of the season. Evangelical Advent often felt like one more chance to fail at being super-mom. “Make sure your children understand the Reason for the Season!” “Keep Christ in Christmas!” “Volunteer!” “Donate!” “Shop!”
And all I really wanted to do was light a candle, curl up in a chair with a blanket, and . . . just be.
Liturgical Advent, in contrast to Evangelical Advent, is explicitly a time of quiet, of deepening, of self-reflection. It is time to practice waiting, expecting the coming of Christ in the incarnation, and expecting the coming-again of Christ in the time when all will be made perfect. Instead of a time when we attempt to make everything perfect, or at least pretend that it’s possible to make everything perfect, it is a time when we acknowledge that this world is not and can never be a perfect place in human time.
We . . . must . . . wait.
In this period of quiet and of waiting, there is time for self-reflection, for us to understand who we are and where we fit into the ways of God in the world. It is a time for us to learn and practice incarnation in our own hearts and bodies and minds. What does it mean to live out the most authentic version of who God made me to be? What does it mean to have the peace and love of Christ flow through me to others?
This is very, very different from insisting on saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” from cramming in extra holiday events (even “Christian” ones), or from moving an elf from shelf to shelf to keep the “magic” in Christmas.
I am learning to live Advent in my body and heart and spirit, instead of just in my mind. I celebrate the Word embodied and dwelling among us.