During Advent we often focus on the idea of anticipation, which can be extremely joyful! At St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church in Spencertown, we begin the season by decorating wreaths in late November, which are then offered at our annual Christmas Bazaar. We also dust off our cherished Nativity scene, which fills our entire narthex, hand-made by a local artist who has collected figurines since his childhood.
For my husband Vince and I, preparing for Christmas will be especially meaningful this year, as we teach our 2 ½ year-old daughter our favorite Christmas carols and celebrate our three month-old daughter’s first Christmas.
And while there is so much to enjoy during this season, some of our anticipation during Advent can be stressful. Our eyes are focused ahead on work or home projects we hope to complete before Christmas. Or we may be dreading the rush of holiday shopping, and the pressure to outdo ourselves from last year.
There is also an unspoken expectation that we should be happy during this time, when in reality this is a season that can bring heartbreaking loneliness and grief, especially for those who have lost loved ones.
Our anticipation during Advent can be healthy and life-giving, but also overwhelming and emotionally draining. So, how can we find a faithful balance? How can we prayerfully approach this season?
Perhaps we need to consider another kind of Advent, a third Advent.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th century contemplative Christian monk in France, speaks of Three Advents. The First Advent we are quite familiar with, as it brings to mind the humble stable of Bethlehem. This Advent is centered on the miracle of Christ’s birth and God entering our human story in the flesh. This First Advent invokes all those good feelings that we associate with this time of year.
The Second Advent is a little more “out there.” It involves Christ’s return, which we believe will usher in a new time and realm of peace. But if we’re completely honest, this Second Advent brings up a lot of anxiety, much like the unease we may feel when unexpected guests arrive at our quiet homes over Christmas.
But Saint Bernard also describes a Third Advent, a middle path that lies between the joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth and the uncertainty of Christ’s second coming. This bridge between the two Advents is where we live… right now!
This Third Advent is a redemptive space, in which we as God’s people participate in making God’s coming Kingdom a reality, right now. In this in-between space, we collaborate with God’s creative presence in our own lives and in the lives of others. This Third Advent is not something that we wait for, or anticipate, but it is how we live our lives today and in each given moment.
Saint Bernard writes, “This intermediate coming is a hidden one” in which we dwell in this very moment, in the Spirit and power of Christ. “It is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last.”
Along this winding Advent road, I invite you to treasure each moment. Stay a while in the hidden places where God’s grace and glory is being revealed, today. We don’t have to wait to experience God’s holy presence – we simply have to open our hearts to receive it!
With this in mind, let us pray ~
Ever-present God, as we journey deeper into this Advent season we are full of anticipation for what is to come. However, with our gaze set ahead of us, we often miss opportunities to experience Your love and grace in the present. Forgive us, O God, for overlooking the ways in which You have already arrived! Help us to experience this season prayerfully, acknowledging that Your great work has already begun. Rather than simply wait for the coming of Your kingdom, show us how to joyfully participate in Your mission of reconciliation, today and in each moment. Amen.
May God bless each of you in this Holy season!
Rev. Lynn Horan
St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church, Spencertown