As soon as the Thanksgiving festivities drew to a close and the house emptied out again, I began preparing my heart and home for the next celebration. I carefully removed the fall decorations and some of the décor that marks “ordinary time” to make room for the myriad decorations I put up each year for Christmas. The rhythm of my efforts at decking the halls keeps time with the Christmas music I play each December. I light candles even during the day to keep out the growing darkness. Pumpkin candles that reminded me to live out of a spirit of thanksgiving were replaced with pine-scented pillars so I know we are now living in the season of Advent.
I didn’t grow up in a liturgical tradition. For me, Christmas followed immediately after Thanksgiving as surely as December follows November. But more recently I’ve come to appreciate the Church calendar and have discovered the gift of Advent, nestled nicely between our American Thanksgiving and the season of Christmas—which runs from Christmas day until Epiphany, the day marked to celebrate the visitation of the Wise Men.
Advent, which is derived from the Latin word for coming, offers us a season to pause and reflect on the anticipation of the coming of Jesus—as the Messiah to Israel, at his second coming, and every day as we fellowship with him. During Advent, we are invited to press into our own deepest desires and longings, and take them to Jesus. Advent is also when we ask Jesus to show us his deepest desires for us and for this broken world. Advent is a time of expectation, and also preparation. Like the stillness of a cold mid-winter’s night, we prepare for our Lord’s coming in times of stillness with him.
The Scripture texts for the Advent season remind us Jesus offers us not only the gift of eternal life, but also the gift of freedom in this life. We don’t have to be in a dark cell to be imprisoned. Anything that has captivated us so much that it wields an unhealthy control over us means we’re captive to it. Where do you need freedom today? From the constant stress of juggling motherhood, career, and relationships? From guilt or shame? From a need to be in control? From an unhealthy body image? From fear of not measuring up? From addiction, grief, a lack of self-control? From the voice of your own inner critic?
Advent is the perfect season to sit in the stillness with the Lord and ask him to gently look with you at your deepest desires for freedom, fullness, and peace. Taking time to sit with all that is not as it should be in our lives and inviting the Lord to look at it with us is a daunting endeavor. But this is exactly what he said he came for.
The LORD has sent me to announce good news to poor people,
to comfort those whose hearts have been broken,
to announce freedom for those who have been captured,
to set prisoners free from their dark cells.
He has sent me to announce the year of God’s favor,
to comfort all those who are sad,
to help those who are filled with sorrow
I will put beautiful crowns on their heads in place of ashes.
I will give them joy instead of sorrow, a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness.
What is causing you to be weary today? Will you offer it to Jesus as you wait with anticipation of his coming? Our holy and creative God is always working to bring us into fuller joy, fuller freedom. Jesus is the gift of hope to a weary world. Only he can fill us with genuine, lasting comfort and joy.
Bonnie O’Neil is an inspirational communicator who is passionate about restoring hope to hurting people. She is a spiritual director and the Executive Director of the faith-based nonprofit Alpha Mid Atlantic. She is the author of two books, Chronic Hope which helps readers discover hope in the unexpected and challenging seasons of life, and My Identity is in Christ which examines how to break free from our false identities to live in the freedom God intends for us. Bonnie has three adult children and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her husband. More of her writing can be found at www.bonnieoneil.com.