Advent is a season when the church and the world seem particularly out of sync.
Jangly music and gaudy Santas began their assault before Halloween. The Hallmark Channel is already well into its countdown to Christmas. Over at the hardware store, all of the porch furniture has been set aside for giant, glowing, Christmas yard decor.
Almost everywhere there is to go, holiday festivity is bursting from the seams. But churches that tend to the pensive waiting of Advent nurture a quiet but powerful resistance to the world and its brash holiday cheer.
This juxtaposition is critical. It reminds those who gather to claim, again, who and whose we are. We have a different story to tell – one that is rooted in revelation and undergirded by mystery.
Advent is the beginning of a new year rather than the end of an old one. The first Sunday of Advent is the first Sunday of the next liturgical year – and so it is that as followers of Jesus turn the page on our year together, we step immediately into pensive waiting. It calls us out of ourselves and into the story of God’s love for us.
All that lies ahead in the coming year is formed – or informed, perhaps – by the way that we wait during this time.
Our celebration of the inbreaking of love into this world, our remembrances of the Magi, our movement toward Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost is undergirded by the way we wait during Advent.
Churches who mark this season often do so with a change in the colors in the sanctuary, and the addition of an Advent wreath to worship on Sundays.
There are so many beautiful traditions around hanging the greens or decorating the Christmon tree. The crèche, the pageant, the weekly lighting of the Advent candles – these are often beloved and rarely altered – practices for which congregants wait, and through which congregants wait.
Yet churches must be ever vigilant that tradition does not reinscribe problematic storytelling.
Churches have the opportunity to embrace gender-neutral language for God and for brown representations of Jesus and the holy family, to challenge binary gender norms, to use text, language and images that demonstrate a broad and fully inclusive understanding of God’s extravagant love.
The progressive church must also choose to be out of sync with problematic norms and careless theology.
Because of the limitations on gathering that so many faith communities are facing during the pandemic, everything about Advent has the potential to be more challenging.
Beloved community traditions may have to be set aside or altered. Yet, finding a way to allow our congregations to bathe fully in the waiting of Advent and the joy of Christmas, even amid anxiety, grief and isolation, is critical.
What are your congregations doing to hold on to tradition but push against problematic norms all while juggling new ways of worshipping and gathering?
If you are still looking for ideas, I hope you will look at “Advent at Home: Restore, Resolve.”
I partnered with artist Carlye Daugird to create this resource that brings elements of observing Advent from the sanctuary into the home during this season when so many churches have to change the way they worship.
We are selling two different resources to enhance the observation of Advent for progressive followers of Jesus.
- One is our all-inclusive kit, which comes in a purple box and includes all of the print resources and all of the hands-on resources. It is a box full of progressive and accessible spiritual resources for observing Advent at home, which will be mailed to you.
- We are also selling packets of the print resources only, individually or in bulk. These are perfect for communities of faith to use together at home.
All packets include access to our curated Spotify playlist, which highlights queer and queer-affirming artists.
We would love to talk to you about how you are planning to observe Advent and partner with you in providing great resources for such a time as this.
In all that lies ahead, in our hoping, waiting and starting anew, I pray we all remain out of sync with the world as we are formed by God’s extravagant love.
Associate Minister for Care and Welcome at United Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, she lives in Durham with her family. She is the editor of “Though the Darkness Gather Round, Devotions about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss.”