Advent in a Lean Year

Advent in a Lean Year

For many Anglicans observing a faithful Advent season means keeping Christmas at bay for as long as possible. We resist the commercial call to run headlong into Christmas cheer immediately after Thanksgiving. We decorate with restraint and give Advent wreaths a prominent place in our homes. We listen to Advent hymns, not Christmas music. It is a point of pride! I say this as the chief Advent-keeper for Restoration. 

I want to offer you some wisdom about the season and some grace in this difficult year. Advent, and the entire Church Year, is a tool for your spiritual formation that bends your life toward the story of Christ and his Church. It is a cycle of fasting and feasting, pruning and growth that works through the Church’s calendar year after year to remake us. You will never come to a season in the same way twice. And a faithful response to Christ-like transformation by the invitation of the Spirit will not be identical every year. 

Most years we come to Advent already sated and bored. We don’t bend to the season and cultivate a hunger for Jesus and his Kingdom. Instead move coast straight ahead to cozy Christmas nostalgia, going from feast to feast which is, honestly, gluttony. But this year has already been a long, painful fast. Even if we are lucky enough to be have a stable paycheck and a well-stocked pantry, we are still hungry for human contact and all the familiar activities and places that brought us joy in the pre-pandemic world.

This is a lean year. We have not had our fill. We are not contented. We are not comfortable. 

As we approach Advent and Christmas, we all need to admit that this year will be different. Advent speaks directly to our corporate mood. The whole season is filled with earnest prayers of the Church asking Jesus to break into our world and begin to set things right. We need that more than ever! We have exhausted all of our own answers and resources and we know it. We need to Jesus to come and be with us in this bewildering time.

Be gentle with yourself when if comes to adding more fasting on top of this extended season of fasting. I don’t know what the faithful response will be in your home but I encourage you to lean in to the rich themes of this season and practice reliance on Jesus. But maybe put your Christmas tree up this weekend if need the joy that comes from sitting near the twinkle lights and familiar ornaments. There are no hard-and-fast rules about this. There is evidence in the traditions of the Western Church for Advent starting as early as November 11 and Christmas celebrations stretching out as late as February 2. Just promise me to take your tree down before Ash Wednesday!

The disappointing second part of this fasting and feasting cycle is that Christmas will be different for all of us too. It will not meet our nostalgic expectations or cause us to forget the difficult month past. I’m already preparing my family for the ways that Christmas will be different . We won’t be going to Santa’s Village or the Trains at Northpark. We won’t be traveling to see family or inviting friends over to decorate gingerbread cookies. And this makes me sad. But I am determined to eagerly anticipate the arrival of Jesus together and find joy in the way he meets us here and now.

God is the one who prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. He invites us to sit and eat with him regardless of the world in disarray around us. Feasting is a gift of grace that he gives and it shapes us a people of joy regardless of the circumstances. This has been a lean year. Many institutions and traditions have failed us but Jesus breaks through and brings joy where it is unimaginable.