Advent is like learning to ride a bike. No, you don’t have to wear a helmet. No, there is little risk that you will scrape your elbows. No, you don’t even need training wheels.
Actually, I can think of several similarities between Advent and learning to ride a bike. For one thing, neither is really that hard to get into. For another, once you start doing it, whether practicing Advent or riding a bike, it’s something you’ll keep with you for the rest of your life.
But these similarities are not what I’m thinking about when I ask the question: Why is Advent like learning to ride a bike? There is another connection that I find both important and encouraging. Allow me to explain.
Most Christians I know have mixed feelings about Christmas. On the one hand, we love it. We love the celebration of the birth of Jesus, with shepherds and angels, with wise men and a star, with “Peace on earth” and “Joy to the world.” In truth, most Christians I know, with a few exceptions, also love our secular Christmas traditions: decorations and presents, parties and parades, “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas.” Yet, in the midst of our Christmas celebrations, we feel torn. We have a sense that we should be focusing more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas, but find ourselves magnetically drawn by the demands and delights of the season. We know that we should somehow be less consumed by consumerism, but we struggle to free ourselves from the treadmill of shopping. Thus, we often feel stuck, unsure of how to make the weeks before Christmas more a matter of God and less a matter of presents and parties.
In my e-book, Discovering Advent: How to Experience the Power of Waiting on God at Christmastime, I share my youthful efforts to make my family Christmas celebration less secular and more religious. As you might imagine, my best efforts flopped. It just didn’t work to focus on trying to make Christmas less secular, less materialistic, less harried, less this and less that.
Then I discovered Advent. Of course I didn’t discover it in the sense of a scientific discovery. I was hardly the first to set aside as special a few weeks before Christmas. In fact, Christians had been doing this for well over a thousand years. I “discovered” for myself what others had known and loved, even though I had been missing out. Advent is a four-week season in which people prepare for Christmas by focusing on their need for a savior. They get in touch with their yearning for God, God’s kingdom with its justice and peace. They look forward to welcoming once again the entrance of God into the world in a stable in Bethlehem, and they remember that Christ will come again, at which time “the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever,” to quote from Handel’s Messiah.
Christians celebrate Advent in a variety of ways, including the use of the Advent wreath with its candles that kindle our hope and focus our devotion. Advent features special colors (purple, blue, pink) and special music (“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” etc.) and special readings from Scripture (for example, see my Advent Devotional Guide) For many Christians, Advent offers an opportunity to slow down, to be quiet, to reflect, to remember, and to get ready to welcome Jesus, not only into the manger, but also into our hearts in a fresh way. In Discovering Advent, I explain the Advent traditions I have just mentioned and several others as well.
So, why is Advent like learning to ride a bike? Because we have a very hard time learning to ride a bike if we focus on not falling down. The more we pay attention to the negative – don’t fall down, don’t fall down, don’t fall down – the more we are magically pulled to the ground. But, when we begin to focus on the positive, looking forward, moving ahead, keeping vertical, then learning to ride a bike is easy. Similarly, if, when it comes to Christmas, we focus on the negative – less secular, less consumerist, less rushed, less superficial – chances are we’ll have a hard time achieving the goal of a deeper, truer, and more authentic Christmas. Advent allows us to focus on the positive, on our need for God, on our hope for a better world, on the first and second “advents” of our Savior. In my experience, the more we focus on the positive – Advent – the more we will be able to redeem Christmas and make it a time of drawing near to God and celebrating his coming among us. Miraculously, we’ll find it easier to let go of the consumerism and secularism that threatens to strangle the true spirit of Christmas.
If you’d like to learn more about Advent, you can purchase my e-book for only $2.99. But, I have lots of materials on this blog, which you are welcome to read for free.
The basics of Advent: its meaning, traditions, and spiritual purpose.
This devotional guide is meant for individuals, families, groups of friends, or worshiping communities.
How can the Christian Year (Liturgical Year, Church Year) make a difference in your relationship with God?
My wife, Linda, has composed a series of “doodles” for Advent. They include her sketches, biblical passages, and questions for reflections. I feature one doodle each day at the top of my blog. You can see several of her doodles here.