I confess: I am coming late to Christmas this year.
I know - it’s only December the 11th, but it’s as if today I’m just beginning to let the season of Advent sing over me. It has been a busy month: two speaking engagements, a major writing deadline, sick kids, out-of-town guests - and to all this have been added the emotional and spiritual burdens of an undecided life and the marital conflict, which those decisions have surfaced.
This morning I did what I routinely do when deadlines have passed and I’m seeking inner calm: I cleaned my house and baked bread.
There was a book I had intended to read reflectively this Advent, a book that I have only bought and begun today. It's called Silence - And Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro. Already, I’ve found it to be a beautiful and lyrical invitation into the Advent narrative of Zechariah and Elizabeth, whose story I remember well from some of the Advent posts I wrote last year. (Check them out here, here and here).
If you don’t have any special reading you’re doing yet for Advent, I’d recommend this book of daily reflections to you. (Yes, you can come late to the party, just as I have.)
Even the preface offered words I needed to linger over:
“During Advent, we repent of the habits and practices that turn us away from the loving God who is always reaching out to be reconciled to us.”
Quite honestly, I have never thought of Advent as a season for repentance. That would seem a more fitting a term for Lent, but I suppose that the Christian life is never exhausted of repentance. When is it ever inappropriate to take seriously this first word of the kingdom?
And what exactly is it that we repent of? “Habits and practices that turn us away from a loving God.”
I am reminded of Jesus’ patient words of warning: the spirit is willing, but the body is weak. In my mind and heart, though I might purpose to love, obey, and serve Jesus, something often obstructs the way forward.
Me. Me. Me.
My habits and practices: the ways I accommodate myself to the world rather than to God; the distractions of the virtual noise and the busyness of life and lists; the daily decisions when I preference what’s easiest and most convenient. This is my accumulated numbing - intentional as well as subconscious - of my life to the voice of God.
God is taking the initiative to love me, but as a matter of habit, I’m too busy for the slowing that is required to meet His invitation.
“Advent is a season to ponder, to listen, to understand that prayer is as much about cultivating stillness and attentiveness as it is about offering our words to God. This listening for God is a difficult business. It requires a willingness to be patient and to be still. It requires disciplining ourselves to consistent times of sitting quietly before God and waiting for God to meet us in that space.”
Willingness: This is the work of the Spirit, a real movement of grace in our hearts that draws us into the longing of Him. Praise God for willingness. It is a gift we receive by faith. Never doubt that your willingness to want God isn’t evidence that He has long wanted you.
Discipline: But this is the work of our response to that bidding love. We need real resolve - which become our habits and practices - to attend, heed, absorb, secure, confirm, and obey God’s voice. How easy is it to let the voice of God rattle around noisily inside our minds and bodies without ever allowing it to do its intended work of transformation?
“Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”
I’m inviting me - you - this Advent season to the slow and patient work of waiting and listening, of cultivating stillness and silence. And may this produce in each of us repentance.