Advent

Advent is upon us once again. As Jesus predicted, even though we could read the signs (or the calendar) and see this thing coming, it sneaked up on us again like a thief in the night.

This has become a season of intense preparation, a season of busy-ness. We’ve got to get ready for Christmas. It’s time to prepare the decorations, finalize our shopping lists for loved ones, fight the crowds at the Black Friday sales (always with the warning that these outstanding deals are urgent and will never be seen again! Well, until next week maybe, when the crap we’re buying goes on sale at Amazon.com or something). We need to dig out the Christmas recipes, plan the parties, attend the parties, experience anxiety about the parties, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Busy, busy, busy! Or as the Grinch complains, “Noise, noise, noise, NOISE!” (Thank you, Grinch. I feel ya, buddy.)

While this has been our reality for several generations stretching back at least as far as the 1830s, Advent hasn’t ALWAYS been a stressful time in the commercial sense. This is a season that began some time around the 4th century, and originally was a time for prayer and fasting. That’s why the traditional color for Advent is purple. (Blue is a much more recent innovation.)

It was a time for fasting, because to fast is to cut out all the non-essentials, to boil things down to what’s most important, and to bring the body, mind, and spirit into sharp focus in preparation. Preparation for what? For the “advent” or “coming” or “presence” of Jesus, the Light of the world, who was showing up “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4ff) to shine into and scatter the thick darkness of this world. Think of this both in a literal sense (as Christmas happens after the winter solstice and heralds the lengthening of daylight) and in the figurative sense of chasing away the shadows that lurk in our hearts.

To fast is to sharpen our attention, our awareness, in preparation for the good thing that is to come, even though it probably will be painful and rather frightening. It’s meant to keep us paying attention to what’s important, so that we may endure the trial. Fasting is an excellent tool for that kind of thing.

It’s unrealistic to expect any or all of us to abstain from parties and social gatherings, this year especially. We have sorely missed too many opportunities for fellowship and face-to-face contact, thanks to the global pandemic. But there’s something about fasting that might be beneficial for us still. Maybe a different kind of fast.

What if we were to fast from distractions like … politics? From the incessant cycle of bad news on our TV and computer and telephone screens? Don’t we see enough bad news on our own without someone whose job it is to constantly remind us of how dangerous and divided the world is?

I don’t mean complete abstinence. I’m talking about a FAST. During a fast, one doesn’t abstain entirely from food. We NEED food to live. But we don’t need a diet of constant, mindless snackbowls or bags of junk food in order to live. We eat what we need to eat. The absence of the other food which distracts from nutrition helps us to stay focused.

In a similar way, what if we took in just enough news to be informed WITHOUT all the spin, the empty calories, the all-you-can-eat buffets of accusations about people “the other side of the aisle”?

Maybe THAT kind of fast would actually help us focus on what’s truly important, so that our hearts and minds and spirits might actually be open to the presence of Christ, who is already with us, right in the faces of those we are told to fear and hate? What if we – oh, I don’t know – prayed for those same people instead? It might be a bit like eating Brussels Sprouts for some of us, but think of the health benefits!

This is the spiritual fast I propose for us this year. Keep going to your parties. Do your shopping for your loved ones. But put it in perspective. Don’t be distracted by it. Give up the Fox and the MSNBC. Find a more plain, less fatty and salty source of information, so that we’re not distracted from the TRUE call of this season. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

A blessed Advent to all of you.

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