This Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season in the life of the Christian faith. The word Advent essentially means “to come.” If you were to do a bible search, you would not find the word Advent for it is not contained within the scriptures. It is a practice that began in the 4th and 5th centuries as those being presented for baptism prepared for that marked time in their journey of faith. It was a penitent time of prayer and fasting, very similar to Lent. Pilgrims preparing for baptism would fast Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays leading up to the day of their baptism which happened on the 6th of January, the day of Epiphany.
The season of Advent invokes a posture of waiting. Waiting is not something we like to do, so one can understand how over the years, the practices began to morph until today the practice of Advent has become something quite different and can in some communities barely be distinguished from the Christmas season and all it has come to be. What might it mean for us to revisit the Advent of yesterday and engage in a period of fasting and reflection around our baptismal commitment?
Though waiting is not the favorite sport of the human family, it is necessary for us if we want to be formed and shaped into people who can receive the newness of life and to engage in the work of practicing the message of Christ in ways that give life in the world around us. The image on the front of this cover was painted by a woman I met in Cape Town a little over ten years ago. I didn’t have a lot of money on me and so I decided I would simply sit and talk with some of the artists and learn about their work. I sat with this woman long enough to learn she had HIV/AIDS and her concerns about the health of her unborn child.
This woman asked me to pray with her. I did. The next day I came back to visit with her again. I shared with her I had borrowed some money from a friend to purchase one of her paintings, for I felt like it spoke to me in a way that left me changed. The artist sold me the painting on the cover and gave me a second. She shared that I would know who to give it to when the time came. I did. When my friend Enuma Okoro was struggling to write her first book, I gave her the second painting for her birthday. She names it in that book–Reluctant Pilgrim: A moody somewhat self-indulgent introverts search for Spiritual Community.
My copy of this painting has hung on the wall in every place I have lived. It continues to speak to me quite powerfully providing for me two messages at the same time. The first is simply the awareness that God is always busy preparing to give birth to the promises of something more in the world. The second is this, that there are people desperately waiting for “something more” to be realized in their lives. The woman so long ago with HIV/AIDS, those involved with the education crisis in this country, people who have been impacted by Gun Violence around the world, those who live with too little to eat, those who do not have clean water to drink, those who live under attack for the color of their skin, their gender, or sexuality. The list is very long.
During this Advent season, my hope is that you will engage in a time of fasting from a place where you experience abundance in your life. Maybe it will be fasting from food, but it might not. It might be something else. Allow time in the Spirit to let that answer rise in you. As you engage in limiting in the area where you live with abundance, you will be creating space within yourself for a deeper awareness of your need and when we live with need, God can give birth to something new in us. I hope you experience a meaningful Advent journey, where your faith is deepened for the struggle and wrestle in it.
With you on the journey,