Reflections During Advent

This year’s Advent reflections  focus on Advent as a journey. Each one draws from the appointed Revised Common Lectionary readings for the various Sundays in Advent, and ultimately they make connections with the Lumunos themes from this past year: faith, hope, and love.

Consenting to the Advent Journey

Mark 13:24-25, 33. For in those days…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken….Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

I spent a few days last fall at a Virginia state park in the Allegheny Mountains. Having planned to hike, I was alarmed to hear that, during the week prior to my visit, a woman hiker had been attacked by a black bear. Because of that event, some of the park’s hiking trails were closed. Some? My eyebrows must have shot up. I asked a ranger how safe she thought the open trails were. “Anytime you’re in the mountains,” she said, “you’re in bear country.”

Of course. Her words, which seemed obvious once she spoke them, made me think of times I’d naively hiked in other parts of Virginia’s mountains–for the fresh air, for the lovely scenery, for the inspiring views, for the companionship, for the exercise–without giving a single thought to the black bears upon whose turf I intruded. Just because I hadn’t thought about them didn’t mean they weren’t there. The ranger’s words had shifted my perspective.

It occurs to me that I have often set out on Advent journeys as naively as I have set off onto mountain trails. Ignoring Mark’s account of Jesus’s warning in today’s gospel–Beware, keep alert--and casually claiming Advent as my favorite liturgical season, I have sometimes observed it as though it were a lovely walk through an interesting landscape, a kind of annual pre-Christmas exercise, often taken with gentle companions and always with candles and beautiful music. But if I listen closely to the stark and apocalyptic words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel–images of a darkened sun, a moon that gives no light, stars falling from heaven–my perspective changes.

When I was in the mountains, my changed perspective meant that I thought about hiking differently. With my eyes opened, I could no longer blissfully wander off onto a trail without considering the risks. I wonder if the same is true of Advent. Here, too, a changed perspective requires a new kind of consent to the Advent journey. Advent does offer lovely views (and music, and candles), and it may involve good spiritual exercise for my heart. But does it also involve risks?

The essayist Annie Dillard suggests that if Christians really understood the power of the God to whom we pray, ushers would pass out crash helmets during Sunday services. And so I wonder: Do I truly comprehend in whose habitat I am walking when I set out at Advent? Do I really know who or what I may meet along the way, and what the implication of any encounters may be? Am I aware that I may come up against a power greater than my own, a power that challenges who I am and what I know–or think I know? Am I fully cognizant of the fact that I may be not only challenged but also changed? Am I willing to take that chance?

These are among the questions I am living into this year as Advent begins.

Angier Brock