Yes, 2012 was the year I celebrated the New Year releasing paper lanterns in Thailand and blew out my birthday candles surrounded by people I’d only known for two weeks in London. By comparison, 2013 seems a lot less exciting. However 2013 held many transitions. Graduating university, beginning seminary. Ending a job, interviewing for what felt like millions of jobs, hopefully beginning a new job soon. Many ten-hour road trips back and forth between Kansas and North Dakota. Celebrating several friends’ weddings.
Advent marks the beginning of the Christian calendar; Advent is our new year. I say goodbye to previous years and all the exciting (and sometimes, not so exciting) decisions and adventures.
And this new year reminds me just how much I need Advent.
I don’t need Advent because I need a new beginning, I need Advent because I need to be reminded about my purpose. Because, spider parasites.
Yes, this is where this post takes a weird turn.
Let that serve as your disclaimer. Maybe you should make sure you’ve eaten lunch already, because it’s about to get REAL.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorites families in their new hometown. I was able to attend church with them last night as well. After church, my friend’s friend needed someone to come with her to her school where she is a junior high science teacher. So while she was recording grades, my friend and I were reading some science magazines.
There was an article about parasites. Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga is a Costa Rican parasitic wasp that attacks spiders. The female wasp finds a spider, paralyzes it, and lays an egg on its abdomen. Then once the larva hatches, the larva wasp feeds on its host. The spider is none the wiser.
Until a couple weeks later, the larva injects this chemical into the spider. Cue the song that’s all “So you had a bad day,” only ten million times worse. So the spider begins hardcore building a web, then it sits. Motionless. In its own web. The parasite then kills the spider via poison.1
My friend desperately wanted to make this a sermon illustration, because that’s the plague of preachers, I suppose, wanting to turn everything into a sermon illustration. But she’s right. This is exactly what happens when we are on a slope leading us toward total purpose distortion. Alright, maybe not exactly exactly.
Your purpose probably won’t be distorted by a parasite laying larva on your abdomen*, but it is distorted when we continue our lives without reflection. It’s easy to forget our purpose and start building a web only to catch ourselves.
And that’s why I need Advent.
Advent serves as a reminder of who God is–Emmanuel. The very name reminds us: he’s with us. He became flesh and entered our brokenness. Because of the very in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, we have been saved and freed. Not so we could make a fuss over someone saying “Happy Holidays” over “Merry Christmas.” We are not just given freedom from sin, but freedom for one another. We are to stand together with the oppressed and hungry, those who are marginalized and mistreated.
If Advent is the question: “Where should I place my focus?” Christmas is the answer. Not only should I be longing for Christ’s return, but I should be focusing on Christ. I should be looking for ways to follow the command to love God and love others.
Advent reminds us who we are. We are not alone. We are not without hope. Advent reminds us what really matters. Advent reminds us to breathe in the moment. Advent reminds us to listen to ourselves, to others, to the world. Advent reminds us to open our eyes to the sacred all around us.
One the first Sunday in Advent, I was given the opportunity to preach. I shared that even though I love Advent, I’m not the best at Advent. I am not great at waiting. Remember how I read the entire plot of a book before I finish it? Well, last year at work, I received an Advent calendar with the little doors, each revealing a little piece of Swiss chocolate (yes, Swiss chocolate). I straight up ATE THEM ALL in one sitting because that was more practical than bringing a whole Advent calendar with me on a ten-hour drive.** So I told my church I’m not the best at waiting. If it were up to me, Christ would have returned already.
So why would I need a season that is categorized by waiting? Because it’s not a passive waiting.
Advent is about expectation.
In Advent, we are expectantly waiting for the coming of Christ. It’s about the restoration we will experience in his I Need Adventreturn. Advent is the reminder to look toward a story of a birth that changed everything. Advent is the reminder to pray, “Christ, be born in me.”
Advent is a reminder that our calling is to love each other. Advent reminds us to slow down, put our fists down and release the brokenness we’ve been clinging to so desperately. Advent is an invitation to holy ground.
Advent not only reminds me of my purpose, but it reminds me the story is not over. Advent’s message is one of beginnings. God is a God who makes all things new. Our purpose is to walk in hope and anticipation of what is coming. I need Advent to remind me that the past year was great, but I’m called to live with expectancy that God is doing greater things.
*I mean, let’s hope not. I am right?
**It may or may not have taken all that was within me not to make “NOM NOM NOM” noises from right up there behind the pulpit. But give me a little credit, I am a professional.