It took me a while to get into advent this year, and I realized recently this might be because the posture is a little bit TOO familiar.
To me, advent is about anticipation and longing. Advent acknowledges that things aren’t ideal, but trusts and hopes that God will save us. Advent involves not only trust that God is going to bring salvation, but trust that God’s ways are better than our ways.
In first century Israel, things weren’t great. Herod was a ruler so egomaniacal he had all the children under two killed because one of them, the King of Kings, threatened his rule. It had been a while since God’s people had heard a new word from God, and many felt oppressed beneath Roman rule. Some expected a messiah warrior who would expel the foreigners and return Israel to military power. I doubt many were expecting a baby born in a stable to a young couple from Nazareth, though Anna and Simeon recognized him when they saw him. And few were expecting the humble, subversive, surprising savior he grew into.
This year, I can relate. I feel like waiting is all around me. I’m in a long-distance engagement, and we regularly say things like “It will be so much easier when we are living in the same house!” But we also know that that experience will transform us in ways we cannot know. Many of my friends are looking for their first academic jobs after grad school, and each of dozens of applications represents a potential future that will change them, though only God knows which one if any will work out.
I’ve also known a lot of pregnant women lately, and that anticipation of transformation is so intense it’s used as a metaphor for these other changes. And advent celebrates another literal pregnancy. These times in life are exciting, but exhausting and difficult. Last summer, when my sister was graduating from high school she expressed the same sentiment: I wish college would hurry up and start. We just want the next thing to BE HERE already: the baby to be born, the job to be offered, the marriage to start, the waiting to be over.
A few months ago I wrote about how Christianity demands that we undergo a transformation that we cannot anticipate its outcome. I think the advent periods in our lives are training in trust and patience. In being perpetually open to the transformation God will work, beyond and against our expectations. Some days, through God’s grace, I achieve this. Other days, the waiting and worrying and trying to prepare wears me out.
Something I read in Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition helps me to think about this too. Deleuze writes about Ideas (with a capital I) as “an infinite learning” which, like learning to swim or speak a new language involves “composing … one’s own body or one’s own language with those of another shape or element.” He says this not only “tears us apart but also propels us into a hitherto unknown and unheard-of world of problems.” He goes further to say that we must be highly dedicated to “those problems which demand the very transformation of our body and our language” (p 192).
I don’t think Advent is one of the problems Deleuze was thinking of, but I think it’s a beautiful way to think about what Christianity can do to us if we let it. How do we practice advent in ways that demand the transformation of our bodies and our language? How do we compose our bodies and languages to the shape of awaiting God’s promised change?
(As a side note, Over the Rhine’s Christmas Album Snow Angel has a few songs that capture this advent mood better than most)