‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’ — Luke 21:34-36
This year, one that has been so fraught with anxiety, fear, anger, and hopelessness, is finally nearing its end. Tomorrow marks the beginning of Advent, the start of the liturgical year, and a season of anticipation, preparation, contemplation, and plain old hope. It comes around every year, but this year it feels more welcome than ever.
Advent helps us prepare for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, visits of angels, shepherds, and eventually magi to that child, and several other celebrations that fall between Christmas Day and Epiphany.
This year, Advent brings hope in the form of the easing of hopelessness on the political front, at least for a majority of people. The pandemic rages and strikes back just as people started to see its end in sight, making Advent will be more critical than ever. It seems that a season where quiet, meditative spiritual practices are encouraged might be an antidote to four weeks of fighting crowds in retail stores, overspending on gifts, more struggles at airports, bus stations, and on trains, and party after party.
Heaven knows the pandemic hasn’t been easy, being especially hard on those elderly who live in care centers sealed off to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Sometimes the Advent and Christmas seasons are the only ones where distant relatives can visit their elders. Still, now the closest they can come is perhaps standing on the outside of a window to their family member’s room. Same for those hospitalized with COVID and other diseases. Small children, newborns, and those with impaired immune systems are also severely at risk. Parents and guardians bear a heavy burden of watching without the ability to help. They must have faith and trust in the caregivers who are entrusted with their charges.
It seems that this year, the verse “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” is truly applicable. We’ve had to be alert for so long already, but the things for which we have to be vigilant are still present. There is some hope on the political front. The COVID pandemic is worsening; however, but increased use of masks, attention to social distancing, and avoiding crowds, plus the potential of vaccines being available in the reasonably near future, offer hope.
We need to be increasingly prayerful for those we usually remember – family members, friends, the sick, the grieving, those in prison, those who are addicted or mentally ill, first responders, the medical personnel who treat the sick and injured, the police, ministers, and so on. We also need to pray that we will have the strength to continue to face those things that come our way every day. We have to learn to care for ourselves before fully helping, caring for, and supporting others. We should also ask for patience, inspiration, and faithfulness to do the work God asks us to do. Besides prayer, we need to look for ways to make the world a better place for everyone, not just ourselves. One day we will stand before God and Jesus and will need to give an account of ourselves – a report they already know but will be testing our truthfulness in our own reporting.
Advent is my favorite season. While I don’t have an Advent wreath, and I do put up the tree very early (an old family tradition), I think about the various stories that make up the journey toward Christmas, the meanings of Advent traditions, the songs of hope and expectation. This year the songs will be from YouTube or my iPod, but they will be welcome nonetheless. The stories and traditions will come from various religious sources and blogs and devotionals that give me new insights.
I will try to use this Advent to lift my heart from the depth of depression that it has been in for so long and pretend this Advent is like every other, just with small modifications. I will practice thankfulness and do what I can to help others. Like every year, I will wish it lasted a bit longer at the end of the season.
A Blessed Advent and Happy New Year to you all.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives in Avondale. Arizona, just outside of Phoenix.