Advent in Absentia
November 9, 2022 | Kevin Perry
Having been on vacation for a bit in October, I returned to find that I needed to write on the topic of Advent for this blog entry. I wish I could say my first knee-jerk reaction was white-knuckle prayer—or poring over original language Christmas texts—or combing the early church history in search of a salient angle to write on. But in all honesty, I instead took the road more travelled when it comes to modern research: I went to Google and typed in “Advent.”
I discovered something amazing that you too may have realized. We might just be living in the golden age of “Advent” calendars. Everyone and everything has an “Advent” calendar these days (mind the quotes).
For example, make-up and perfume Advent calendars are extremely popular. Every day you open a new little sample of said product. I admit that I can’t immediately make a connection between a ‘Smoky Velvet Blue’ eye shadow and the Creator and Sustainer of the universe being born in the flesh—but maybe I’m missing something. More horrific sounding to me personally is the thought of opening a different perfume every day for weeks on end. I rate that on the pain scale somewhere in the vicinity of attending an HOA meeting per day during Advent.
I also found a host of Advent calendar offerings themed around TV shows and movies like Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even a Jurassic Park Advent set. How amazing would it be if December 25th was a T-rex, the King of dinosaurs?
And this will likely dismay some, but there is a Harry Potter themed Advent calendar that would be of particular interest to my household. Part of me wants to argue that there are worse things at Christmas than connecting a story about a prophesied chosen one who survives an attempt on his life at birth by being hidden away only to go on later and defeat the powers of evil by sacrificing himself for others through his death and resurrection…but I digress. Honestly, it took great restraint to not title this blog: Accio Advent! If you know, you know.
Maybe the most tempting for me was a coffee-based Advent calendar I found. Oh my—now this seems like a wonderful manifestation of grace. I am a coffee nerd, and I can’t tell you how excited I would be to open up a new coffee bean every day and feel the caffeine surging through my veins. I may not need caffeine in the future new heavens and earth—but for now it sure thins the veil between this tired-middle-aged-dad and the glorified body to come. Don’t judge me if one of these sets ends up at my house this Christmas.
There is of course nothing innately wrong with delicious little sample packs or fun little trinkets during the Christmas season. It just doesn’t make sense to attach the concept of Advent to these types of consumer offerings. Jesus is noticeably absent from these Advents. And these calendars aren’t leading anywhere or anticipating anything except maybe the next day’s treat. The boxes should read “Advent set! Now with 100% less Advent!” It’s not a season filled with samples—it’s a season pointing to a person.
But here is what occurred to me: what I ask of the ‘My Little Pony Snow Party Advent Calendar Set’ is the same question I should ask of my own life during this Advent season: How is this really about Advent?
Because Advent is tricky. It’s not weeks of celebration—it's weeks in preparation of the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It’s an opportunity to sit here between Jesus’ first and second coming meditating on who He is and where we are. Advent is about the arrival and coming of Jesus—historically less about frolicking in the light and more about waiting and hoping in the dark.
Anticipating. Commemorating. Lamenting. Groaning. Fasting.
But in the highs and lows of the season, the true intention of Advent can be relegated to metaphorically standing by the punchbowl at the prom awkwardly waiting to dance. Advent waves from the side of the room saying, “Hey, what about me? Am I a part?”
Bringing this to bear on my life doesn’t seem easy to me.
My work with church is never busier than at the Christmas season. Our social lives are never more full than at Christmas with wonderful parties, events, and gatherings. Our family has wonderful traditions and time together during this season of the year. These are all really, really good things—absolute blessings. I don’t have to replace them. We don’t have to go scorched earth on all the good things in life. The point here isn’t just to make things hard—not misery but meaning.
On December 26th I don’t want to wake up and feel like I’ve just spent weeks leading myself to and just anticipating the next day’s treat. Advent can be an anchor in the year for a part of spiritual growth and focus that isn’t intuitive to many of us. Because drifting doesn’t work too well as a plan for spiritual renewal and formation—especially when the currents in our little slice of the world at Christmas are so strong.
So, how are the rhythms, priorities, and practices I’m going to live out over these next few weeks actually going to help me realize and bring to fruition what Advent is supposed to be about?
I don’t have a clean answer on how to do that yet in this season of our life…but I want to. At this point I’m praying for a plan and a path. Sometimes you just need to prepare to prepare. My dad has often said, “you’ll never do anything better than pray, until you pray.” So here is a simple prayer that may voice something of your desire too for this Advent season:
Father who cares so deeply for us, Holy Spirit that enables us and dwells in us, Jesus who gave Yourself and will one day come again for us…we are thankful for You who desire to be with us and we are grateful for the good news of all You did to ensure that we will be. In the highest highs and the lowest lows of this Advent season, Jesus I believe there is something unique You have to reveal to me about Yourself. Help me in shaping these weeks to stir the longing and waiting for You. Jesus teach and refine in me this season to find help and hope only in You. Amen.
Advent Sermon Series: GLORY (John 1:1-18)
November 27 John 1:1 Glory as the Word
December 4 John 1:2-3 Glory as the Creator
December 11 John 1:4-5 Glory as the Light
December 18 John 1:14-18 Glory in the Flesh
December 23 at 7pm and December 24 at 3:30pm
Christmas Glory – Luke 2:1-20