Sitting down to write this final post for The Art of Simple, I knew I wanted to write about Advent. But what to say about Advent in 2020, one of the hardest and most tumultuous years in living memory?
Many people I talk to are ready to skip over Advent altogether and head straight for the celebrations of Christmas Day. Enough with the pandemic and sickness and death! Enough with divisive elections and political strife! Enough with racial injustice and riots in the streets, enough of sorrow and pain and grief—enough of 2020, right? Bring on the twinkly lights and the Christmas carols and the hot cocoa, already!
I get it—believe me, I am right there, too. A few weeks ago, when I mentioned to my husband that Advent would begin soon, he looked at me aghast and said, “I’m not really prepared to Advent. I feel like this whole year has been Advent.” As a people, our hearts are collectively crying out for relief, for light to shine into our darkness, for hope to be made tangible and faith to become sight. But I think that’s exactly why we need Advent—in fact, there has possibly never been a year when we’ve needed Advent more.
Advent is often presented as a season of waiting, and even, in some faith traditions, as a season of “somber waiting”—a time of self-examination and preparation for the arrival of the Christ Child. While Advent can certainly carry that kind of gravity, it’s never only that, nor should it be. The word “advent” doesn’t mean waiting—it means “coming” or “arriving”! There’s an inherent excitement in the word. Consider the way this idea was captured in these lyrics from one of my favorite Advent hymns:
“People, look east, the time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.”
Doesn’t the excitement ring out from those words? It doesn’t sound like a season of somber waiting; it sounds like joyful anticipation and giddy preparations for a long-awaited visitor. He is on the way!
One essay I read compared the Advent season to a pregnancy: you prepare the nursery, buy all the tiny clothes, stock up on diapers, take a class on caring for newborns—these are important and meaningful activities, most likely done with great care, love, and joy, in hopeful expectation for the coming birth of your baby. I love this metaphor for Advent. Most parents-to-be don’t see pregnancy as a season of somber waiting, or disappointment that their baby isn’t yet here; rather, it’s a time of excited preparation to get ready for the arrival of someone who is hoped for, longed for, and loved. That is what Advent can be.
On the other hand, to those of you who are tired and worn out: if 2020 has done you in and you don’t have an ounce of energy left to give to any seasonal preparations, there is a place in Advent for you, too. No one needs to whip themselves into a frenzy in order to create “Advent memories”; in fact, that is the antithesis of this season.
Christ is coming either way and needs no help from us—we can rest secure in that knowledge. He needs no twinkly lights or polished silver or family Christmas photos mailed out on time. “Let every heart prepare Him room” isn’t merely a line from a beloved Christmas carol—it’s also a wonderful direction for us in this coming Advent season. Prepare Him room in your heart, and that will be enough.
It’s my sincere hope and prayer that everyone reading these words will find comfort and encouragement to move into the Advent season just as you are. If you’re ready to get excited and prepare for the coming of Christ with all the decorations-music-cookie-baking, etc., feel the freedom to embrace that sense of joyful expectation, and wholeheartedly enter into the beauty and joy of the good news that God is coming!
But if you just don’t have it in you this year, that’s okay, too. If your bones are weary, if your soul is shriveled, know that the Christ Child is coming no matter what. Some pregnancies require bed rest, and some hearts do, too. Don’t observe Advent out of obligation or guilt. This year has been hard enough; don’t lay that burden upon yourself. The Light is coming, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Put your trust in Him, and you’ll find rest for your soul.
“Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.”
Yes, the Lord is Love, and He is on the way.
Thanks be to God!
Katie Fox is a writer, an arts ministry leader, a mezzo-soprano, and a choir director, and she is currently pursuing an MA from Fuller Seminary in Worship, Theology, & the Arts. She’s also a native Texas girl, happily married to her best friend, Shaun, and together they are raising two wonderful girls. Katie is the former managing editor and a contributing writer for The Art of Simple. You can find more of her writing at katiefox.net.