Advent is here, and we begin the Christian year anew with a season of waiting. As the days grow darker, we draw closer to the arrival of the Light that turns the world upside down—or right-side up! The journey toward and beyond the manger is one of reversing expectations, encountering what we thought we already knew in brand new ways, and receiving good news in unexpected places. So, with one foot in the prophets and another in the Gospels, we journey together as our spirit waits to welcome the Christ child and carry hope, peace, joy, and love as we live as disciples who anticipate the now-and-not-yet kin-dom of God.
It’s here! The season of waiting we’ve all been waiting for is here! Too much? Probably. But nonetheless, this first Sunday of Advent comes with a sense of arrival. Last week, we anticipated the fulfillment of Christ’s salvific work as we celebrated Reign of Christ. Today, we turn to a new page of the calendar and begin once again at the start of the Christian year. But this arrival is not like finally making it to your grandmother’s house on Christmas morning. No, Advent 1 is all about arriving to wait. Of course, this arrival to wait is not new. Every year when we return to Advent, we dip our toe into a river that is both familiar and always new. Every year, Advent 1 invites us to notice something new in the midst of our familiar preparations for Christmas.
This year, our texts invite us to consider how to wait actively and faithfully. Thus, the whole of worship is an opportunity to help our congregations not just think about and pray about waiting but embody it. Practice it. Live it together in worship, so we can live as faithful, active wait-ers out in the world. As you plan, give yourself permission to mix the familiar and the new—both are necessary for good, active, faithful waiting.
Take Advent 1. Our Shocking Hope. Talk about a mix of familiar and new. We know hope. But shocking? That’s a new one. So, let’s take this opportunity to pull out our purple and/or blue paraments, create those Advent altarscapes that mix deep colors and candlelight, place the Advent wreath front and center—whatever visual cues signal to your congregation that Advent is here. Go back to last year’s hymns; remember the ones your community really put their heart into singing and plan to sing them again over the next four weeks. Provide plenty of opportunities for your congregation to sing their heart songs, participate in yearly traditions, and live into the rhythms of this season in a space that is set apart from the rush toward Christmas. Plan the familiar into every week of Advent and Christmastide.
Certainly, be careful not to feed nostalgia. Embracing our traditions during Advent is not—or should not be—about putting an idealized past at the center of our story. Rather, we embrace the familiar at Advent to remind ourselves of all the ways God has been and continues to be at the center of our story, showing up again and again in surprising and hope-filled ways, whether in Isaiah, the Gospel of Mark, or the community we build during the Hanging of the Greens.
And then. Offer new opportunities to remember that we are a people of hope. Shake up the timing of worship by offering more space for silent reflection or prayer. Sit and meditate on the lone candle of hope lit on the Advent wreath. Invite congregants to give a short testimony about when hope took them by surprise. Sing a song that everyone knows but that you never sing during Advent. Practice paying attention to how God is at work in your midst. Give your people the chance to tell the story of God’s shocking hope in as many ways as possible, so that as we wait together in this season of Advent—and beyond—we learn how to watch for the signs of God at work so we can join in.
Dr. Lisa Hancock, Director of Worship Arts Ministries, served as an organist and music minister in United Methodist congregations in the Northwest Texas and North Texas Annual Conferences, as well as the New Day Amani/Upendo house churches in Dallas. After receiving her Master of Sacred Music and Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology, Lisa earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Southern Methodist University wherein she researched and wrote on the doctrine of Christ, disability, and atonement.