The Advent Wreath: Vulnerability, Hope, Redemption

My Advent Wreath - An antique wagon wheel with the five appropriate candles. 

My Advent Wreath - An antique wagon wheel with the five appropriate candles. 

To Dance with God

Before I go one step further I need to plug a very important person. Her name is Gertrud Mueller Nelson and she wrote a very important book: To Dance with God. I will say more about it later, but for now suffice it to say that this book is my companion and my teacher. Gertrud Nelson is wisdom and hospitality and playfulness incarnate. Her book has taught me invaluable lessons about ritual making - it has made me feel safe and confident in the liturgy and taught me much more about purpose and myth than all of my formal theological education combined. Much of what you will read this month is from her, borne in the heart of Christ, worked out in the life of the Church, and written by the hand of Gertrud. I can not more highly recommend a book to any one looking down the daunting barrel of their family’s religious education. She sits with me now, in the other room, communing with my priest, preparing to council and support my church’s young families. To watch my friends, who have read her book, receive Gertrud is like watching a little army all uniform in their gratitude and joy for her gifts. Anyway….just buy the book. 

A Note About the Advent Wreath

Pre-Christian people, who lived in the far north, had a very different understanding of the seasons. Because they did not separate their religious experience from natural phenomenon, the retreat of the sun god was a worrisome experience: Is the day leaving us? Will the sun leave the earth all together? Will we be forced to live in darkness forever? So they “removed the wheels from their carts and wagons, festooned them with greens and lights, and brought them indoors to hang on their halls.” As the sun retreated and the dark winter took hold, “they brought the wheels indoors as a sign of a different time, a time to stop and turn inward. They engaged the feelings of cold and fear and loss.” And in this way, they wooed the sun-god, his light, and his comforting warmth back. By having the courage to stop, change seasons, wait, and engage the mystery of their own darkness, these people were able to recover hope.

As Christ came and the gospel spread north, the wheel ritual became infused with Christianity and the Advent Wreath was born. Although in many homes today the wreath has become quaint and cute decor, the advent wheel began as a symbol of changing seasons, yearning engaged, and an intentional slowing to wait. 

My Church's advent wreath  - church of the apostles montrose

My Church's advent wreath  - church of the apostles montrose

Now imagine, just for a second, what it would mean for us to reconnect with the ancient prescription for this Advent season and actually remove one of the tires from your car? And then what if you dragged this tire inside and used it as your advent wreath? While I know you can’t (and shouldn’t) do this literally, can you even entertain how much different this season would be if you did? Your daily routines would change. Certainly they would slow, maybe even halt. “We would have the leisure to incubate. We could attend to our precarious pregnancy and look after ourselves. Having to stay put, we would lose the opportunity to escape or deny our feelings or becomings because our cars could not bring us away to the circus of town.” 

Maybe you don’t have to remove a wheel from you car. Maybe there is something else that you could retire for the month, don with green, and light candles atop. Your laptop or blackberry? The to-do list on the fridge? It is fun and interesting to imagine, but of course the point is not to remove or do without any of these things. Unlike Lent, Advent doesn’t feature a “doing without.” Rather, it is a time to change gears, turn inward to your own crevices and shadowlands. The point is to “make holy” our slowing so that Christ can burst on the scene of your greatest needs - needs of which you have taken the time to be sensitively aware.

The Advent Wreath is not only a beautiful teaching tool for our children, the advent wreath is a reminder that this is the season to sacrifice our hustle and bustle. It is a time to put away our perfection, our achievement, and become vulnerable to our deepest longings. Even now, as I write this in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner verdicts, it isn’t difficult to discern America’s heart wrenching cry for Something that can reconcile the races, bring peace to nations, and mend such deep, seemingly impenetrable wounds. 

On Christmas morning I hope you will rise, having slowed yourself and taken this journey to engage your longing. I hope that you will be able to engage an untarnished, full, and total joy of Christmas morning without an ounce of farcity or denial. I hope that you will have used your advent wreath as a reminder to slow yourself and woo the Son-God back into your life. As the light becomes greater and great with each candle, may your hope grow more wild and more promising.

Tomorrow:  

Using the Advent wreath with your Children