The year turns again, like a great conch shell spiraling ever back onto itself. We modern people think of time as a linear path stretching in a long straight line back into the past and forward into some imagined future. But for the ancients time was a great turning wheeling, a spiral laid down year after year one loop atop the other, always turning back toward where it had begun.
The church still marks time in the old way. And we have come back around to the beginning this Sunday. A new old year dawns today. Advent makes sense only in the wheel, not if time is a straight journey from here to there. Because Advent lies between what has been, what is yet to come, and what has been again.
God is doing a new thing, and God has done a new thing, and God is yet to do a new thing.
This is the strange tension of Advent. We wait for something that has already been, and is not yet.
As we walk toward the darkest days of the year the ground lies fallow, new life waiting to erupt. In every cache of nuts that will feed the squirrels through the long dark ahead there is one who will be forgotten, that will be born in the dawning light of spring. A new tree of life to feed the next generation of squirrels, and deer, and clever humans.
In the fields the winter wheat is waiting, roots growing in the cool dark, hidden beneath the dark loam.
The bulbs some of us dug into our gardens in the last few weeks are brewing beauty in their round thick bulbs, waiting too.
The perennials I love so much have all but vanished below the mulch, they know the turning of the wheel, resting now down in the dark earth, waiting for the light to return.
We too are seeds. The temptation is always to skip Advent, to skip the fallow time, the waiting, the long pregnant dark, and jump right into the bright sparkling joy of Christmas. Everything around us is pushing us in that direction. The decorations have been up in the stores for weeks already. Christmas carols are pumping out of the speakers, the advertising on TV is filled with expensive, extravagant gifts tied up in red bows.
I am not going to police when you decorate your home, or send your cards, or buy gifts.
But I would like to invite you into the gift of Advent.
In the Jewish tradition the day begins at sundown. Which means the day begins with gathering together with family and friends, eating good food, relaxing and then crawling into bed for a long night’s rest. Like the wheel of the year the day beginning at sundown changes our orientation to the world. Westerners think of the day beginning with sunup. Which means we get up and get productive and that becomes the focus of our days, our first priority.
When your day begins at sundown, nourishment, companionship, and rest become the default first priority of each day. Here too our year. When time is linear we must also be moving forward. There are no second chances. But our year isn’t linear, our time spirals, and each year begins with the dawning darkness. With the fallow time of rest.
This is Advent. It reorients our expectations. It changes our priorities, if we let it.
I invite you to the observance of a holy Advent.
To fasting, and creating space for newness.
To slowness and rest.
To repentance, which is a second chance to do things differently.
To gentle preparation for new life.
To dreaming dreams as impossible, as revolutionary as Mary’s.
To courage to walk in a different way.
Now, at the turning of the year.
Now as we wait for that which has already been, and is not yet.