Advent 2023 is different this year.

This is my first Advent season since I retired. For the last 38 years or so I have helped a community of believers prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Through those years I have talked about the great themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, faith, waiting, patience, and a number of other great themes. (Some of those are in the form of posts on this site). I have at times featured people involved in the Christmas story: Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men. And then there were objects of Advent: stars, mangers, various animals. One needs lots of topics to cover roughly 190 Advent readings and Christmas Eve meditations.

This year, this is it. Instead of writing them, finding people to read them, convincing others that non-Catholics do Advent and that it is OK, I am listening to what others have to say. This morning marks week 3 of the season. One church we visited got a jump and started a week early, so for us this would be our fourth Advent celebration, but where we are going this morning (we are talking Zimbabwe) doesn’t do Advent.

So, as I reflect from the other side of the pews, a couple of things ring true for me. The first is the variety of thoughts and ways of celebrating Advent. All have had the ring of five candles, four of one color and one another. Generally, these are in a circle with one in the middle and some sort of greenery around them, similar the picture above. As was our practice for those years, members come, read a verse or ten, then a thought, light the appropriate number of candles for that day, say a prayer, and sing a Christmas carol.

I have found comfort and blessing in the tradition preserved in these moments. I have mixed feelings about traditions. At times we just do them because. Maybe we don’t know why. Maybe we do it because Grandpa did it. At other times we do them because they mean something special to us. In the case of Advent, I do them because they help bring me to the place I want to be. They are the road, not only to the manger in Bethlehem, but they carry me beyond that moment, through the life of my Savior. These traditions remind me and prepare me for the next Advent, the Parousia of Christ. And still other times, traditions like Advent are bridges across valleys of doubt and questioning.

This year’s Advent has been that latter one for me. When I retired, I thought I had everything figured out. Maybe not in detail, but I knew where I was going, how I was going to get there, and a few dreams of what I could do. And many of them have come to pass. But not all, and the road has had more twists and turned than I ever dreamed. Thus, as I work my way across this Advent bridge, I am keeping the faith (great theme). I have hope, and I find joy in things I do. I have faith in tomorrow (not Monday but beyond) that God can use me and is preparing roads I have neither seen nor dreamt I might travel.

Am I sorry I retired? I’ve been asked that several times. No, I am not. Do I still want to serve my Lord in his kingdom? You bet! So I’m almost across this Advent bridge and onto the road ahead, celebrating the one who came, and is coming again. Serving where and when he asks. Blessed Advent, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you all.