We recently put up all of the Christmas decorations at my church, and we’ve started the work of putting them up at our house. We’ve adorned our house with a simple strand of purple lights, though they look a bit more pink than the purple that was advertised on the box. We’ve set up the little artificial tree that we’ve set up for the last umpteen years, and we have already covered it with an assortment of ornaments – most of which have a special meaning for our family.
At home, it wouldn’t feel like Christmas to me without the Christmas tree, fresh-baked snickersnap cookies, and a big pot of hot wassail.
At church, it wouldn’t feel like Christmas to me without the Advent wreath.
And the four traditional Advent themes – hope, love, joy, and peace.
I cling to those themes every Advent. While I’m usually a big fan of creativity in worship planning, the Advent themes are something I’ve never considered changing. I think it’s because I need them. I need more hope. I need more love. I need more joy. I need more peace. And, while I know that nothing can truly stop Christmas from coming (sorry, Mr. Grinch), part of me wonders if the journey toward Christmas would be the same without these weekly movements and themes.
I have never been willing to deviate from them – even if sometimes I’ve taken them in a different order.
But, today, while I was sitting with a group of other clergy, I started to think about the wreath a little bit differently. I started to wonder if part of why I’ve been unwilling to deviate from these themes is because – after all these years – I still don’t understand them. Not even a little. As much as I know I am in need of hope, love, joy, and peace, I’m not sure if I’ve come any closer to understanding what they look like. I am far better at living without them, even though I know my soul needs them.
That’s when I thought to myself: One of the best ways to understand something is to explore its opposite.
And so, the anti-Advent wreath idea was born.
The prefix “anti” simply means “opposite,” though it can also mean “against.” In this Advent experiment, I’m not seeking to work against the traditional themes of Advent, but will instead be reflecting on their opposites in order to better understand them. Perhaps in understanding them, I will find myself beginning to live in them.
Each week throughout Advent, I will reflect on the word that I believe is the opposite of each Advent theme. I will explore how those opposites are present in my own life and in the world. At the end of each reflection, I will share a short litany for an Advent candle lighting for that week. At this point, I imagine these litanies will be the most useful in an at-home setting, but feel free to adapt them and utilize them as you think is best.
Perhaps in the exploring of the negatives, the positives will reveal something new about themselves. Perhaps in looking at the shadows, we’ll better be able to track down the light.
Maybe, this Advent will truly be one that prepares the way – even if not across the whole world, at least within my own heart.
And that, indeed, would be a miraculous start.
Each Advent reflection will be posted on Fridays through Advent. Check back here for links to each week.