Advent, Ancients, and … Anti-Racism?

Advent is an ancient tradition that both ministers to our hearts and equips us for the fight against racism. If you’ve never practiced it, or have never considered its relationship to social issues, read on in the post below!

Did you know that the first Sunday of Advent actually marks the new year in the liturgical calendar? In America, we traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving and then launch into all things Christmas. Our celebrations culminate on Christmas Day, after which we clean up and move on to the new year. However, in the liturgical calendar, Advent is the season of preparation leading up to Christmastide: 12 days of celebration of the birth of Christ (with or without a partridge in a pear tree). In her book Shadow and Light, Tsh Oxenreider explains how a slow build to a long celebration, rather than a long build to a short celebration, sets the liturgical calendar apart from our cultural calendar. But rather than a set of somber rules to follow, traditional Advent is a gift of restraint. We cultivate anticipation as we postpone our traditional December delights (movies, music, parties, etc,) till Christmastide. It is a daily remembrance that we walk in the darkness of sin in the world and sin in our hearts. And then the light breaks through. And that light breaking through requires more than one morning to celebrate. (We weren't quite ready to delay all our traditions of Christmas movies and music this year, but the logic behind this practice is quite compelling!) Advent began in the fifth century, and it is hard to observe it without recognizing the ancient aspect of the tradition. We cultivate humility when we acknowledge that Christians of the past knew what was good for us now. We recognize that we are part of an ancient tapestry of believers, of which our thread is very, very small. Whether we see it or not, each individual is a product of history. It’s not just okay, but good to acknowledge that. During Advent we intentionally take time to engage the reality of darkness in between Jesus’ first and second comings. We give names to present shadows: racism, poverty, corruption, illness, death, betrayal, hunger, estrangement from God. We lament the world’s darkness with assurance that soon it will be made new. And lament is the gateway to change: the more we lament the more we desire for God to empower us to beat back the darkness. The more we lament the more we cannot ignore the darkness in the world, even if it is not our direct experience. Racism starts to feel not as far away. It is the lived experience of our brothers and sisters and a stronghold that Jesus’ power can destroy.

Most of all, Advent calls us to walk in hope. In the midst of shadows, we fix our eyes on Jesus’ light because it has come and will come again. We can fight racism with hope that one day all nations will be reconciled around the throne of God. When it seems hopeless, Advent reminds us to look ahead and remember what is promised. That should give us courage to engage these present battles. We know who has won the war.

Advent’s attitudes of connectedness, collective anticipation, and yearning for freedom are huge assets in fighting racism. Advent calls us to see our place among other believers throughout history and to recognize that the darkness of the world is bigger than our own experience. And anything that gets us to see our collective identity rather than just an individual one will prepare us for the fight for systemic change. If you’ve never practiced Advent, I highly recommend starting with Tsh Oxenreider’s book that I mentioned earlier. It gives the briefest of histories of the season and then provides a daily liturgy of praying a Psalm, listening to a piece of music, and viewing a piece of art. It’s that simple. As I’m writing this, Advent has already kicked off, but it's not too late to join this ancient and important tradition. Why not jump in? Engage the darkness and savor hope’s assurance. Imagine what newness will look like in contrast to what we see around us now. Christmas is a foreshadowing of ultimate redemption in the world. Let’s practice looking ahead and letting that anticipation catalyze us here and now.

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Crisanne's blog, which follows the life of a young Mom who's passionate about leading her family on the journey to become anti-racist.

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