It is these winter nights of star-gazing that I remember most often, actually. I think it's because no matter how well we prepared for the cold, there was one thing for which we couldn't prepare. No matter how many warm things we put on, no matter how wonderful the coat or the boots - there was nothing we could do to protect ourselves from the air we had to breathe. So we would sit out there on the end of the deck, bundled up with all the clothes we could fit on, and still the cold winter air would come barreling into my lungs. It was shocking. Persistent. And it always woke me up. There was no avoiding that shock - no matter how much preparation we did. Having said that, I could swear that it was on those nights that the stars shone most brightly. It was as if the crisp air, the shock of the cold, somehow made the stars more brilliant.
Advent is a bit like that cold air. We get busy and distracted by all of the things, tasks, and requirements of our lives. All the places we have to go and things we have to do. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, Advent wants to break into these cycles. And it can be rather shocking - but if we are aware of the ways in which the Spirit wants to break through into our lives, the result is brilliant.
In Advent our scripture passages, our prayers, and our imagery all seek to draw stark oppositional lines - around light and dark, around good and evil; and all of this should throw into relief for us the difference between the world we live in and the kingdom which God has prepared for us. Advent is designed to bring up for us the things that are eternal - and to break in to our lives in ways that can't be ignored. Like the cold, it's intended to shock us a bit - to get our attention - and to wake us up. In fact, we're told many times throughout our scripture during this season that we must "keep awake" because we do not know when the day or the hour is coming that Christ will be revealed.
The shock - the cold - of Advent, though, isn't so that we'll see the world around us more clearly. At least, not really. It's so that we'll see Christ more clearly. Sometimes, hopefully, that means we'll find Christ in the world and in our neighbor in ways that we hadn't before. But mostly, it's so that we come to know Christ more intimately - and so that we will renew our commitment to following him. Christ comes at the end of Advent to make all things new - including us.
Where are the places in your life where you need to take a deep breath of cold air? Where are the points - the broken spots - that need to be rebuilt and renewed? This work is not always easy - or pleasant - just like the sometimes ripping pain of the cold. But the outcome, if we're faithful - is always the same. It's renewal and recreation - so that we can draw ever neared to Jesus - so that in all of the pieces and fragments of our lives, Christ might shine ever more brilliantly.