The tribe I grew up in didn’t observe Advent. I was probably in college before I understood there was such a thing as church seasons and the liturgical calendar.
The word, of course, means coming, arrival, especially of something new, ideally of something good.
But the tenor of the season is waiting.
Every kid who knows Christmas knows the anticipation part of waiting. Secrets! Surprises! Maybe something longed for will materialize! Each day marked off the calendar brings it one day closer.
But there are lots of other kinds of waiting, too.
A few days ago, we were waiting for an ice storm to arrive. The electric company openly predicted power failures, as long as five to seven days. People mobbed the stores, cleared the grocery shelves of milk and bread and whatever else we needed to feed ourselves for a few days and didn’t already have at home. We filled our tanks with gas.
My power failed for a couple of days in the snow and ice storm that came last Christmas. So, just in case, I went to the outdoors store to get a camping stove and fuel. At least I’d be able to make tea, heat soup.
“Hey, lady!” an employee genuinely greeted me when I walked in. She was standing right by the stoves, as it happened, so she gave me the tour of possibilities, recommended the cheapest one, showed me how to use it, and gave me some other useful if-the-power-goes-out advice.
She might not remember my name, but she remembers I have a kayak, because she sold it to me and because we’ve paddled together on the Arkansas River with other kayakers and canoeists supporting breast cancer research in Little Rock’s Paddle for the Cure. She shared the good news of her family’s new kayaks, with the implication that we’ll paddle again when suitable weather returns. She remembers that I live in the neighborhood, without a fireplace. So along with my festive little shopping sack of stove and fuel canisters, she flipped over a business card and gave me her cell phone number. In case it got too cold, her family would make a place for me at their hearth.
I have spent good years within tribes who do celebrate the church seasons, and now that I’m with non-liturgical people again, I will likely spend some hours with those other tribes this month. But my understanding of Advent is still, in many ways, that of a child, or a foreigner: something about waiting; a hope of light in the cold and warmth in the dark; unanticipated gifts in the oddest places.