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  • Rachel Conrad Carlson

Searching for Advent

As a non-Catholic Christian, it wasn’t until my thirties that I realized I’d been searching for Advent my entire life. Even as the child of two evangelical, very Christian parents who celebrated the arrival of Christ with gusto each year, I still found myself longing for more. More traditions, more introspection, more quiet, more meaning. Now, of course I’d heard the word “advent” before. I’d seen the cute countdown calendars everywhere, and I could tell you the dictionary definition of “coming or arrival.” But what I hadn’t yet encountered was a purposeful unfolding of each event in a thoughtful time and manner, with space given to contemplate the weight and meaning of each moment. This longing grew along with me, and by college I was on a full-out search for ways to bring the season alive meaningfully by carving out sacred spaces of remembrance.


When I was twenty-three, I moved to Vienna, Austria as a missionary teacher at an English-speaking Christian school there. It was the first time I was surrounded by a truly ecumenical community, living in a (somewhat post) Catholic country, and I was eager to learn everything possible about the varying Christian experiences and perspectives around me. My first year there, I was asked by the Chaplain if I’d like to light the second candle in the Advent wreath and read that week’s scripture verses aloud in the high school Chapel service. For a person who speaks aloud to a room full of teenagers every day, I remember being extremely nervous before walking to the wreath at the front of the room. I stared at the flames and wanted time to slow down, wanted to memorize each word and be saturated in the truth that Jesus came to this earth sent by Father God, with the breath of the Holy Spirit preparing the way in the hearts of Mary and Joseph, and ultimately in the hearts of all the world.


And in this present season, I long to prepare the way yet again: in my own heart, in my relationship with my husband, in the newly-awakening-mind of my 16-month-old daughter, in the life of my grumpiest neighbor, and in this dark and divided country. Prepare the way to what, exactly? To Christ, both the babe swaddled in a manger and the Son of God who chose the Cross, who chose the way of death for himself in order to offer us Life Eternal. And right now, in the midst of this pandemic and the isolation pervading this holiday season, it seems to me like right now just might be the most necessary time to make space to wait and remember and listen, and to invite those around us (in our home or on Zoom) to join in. As Madeleine L’Engle writes,


We cannot wait till the world is sane

to raise our songs with joyful voice,

for to share our grief, to touch our pain,

He can with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!


For me, that’s what Advent does: it reminds me fresh each year of the truths that root my faith, that form my daily relationship with God. It reminds me that Christ came into darkness in order to share our griefs and to heal our pains. When I choose to celebrate joy even as I’m so aware of the current chaos and division and darkness, I am choosing to cling to Hope made present, today and always. This season, I invite you to slow down with me, to follow along with the Advent readings and traditions, and to give yourself space to soak in the reality of Emmanuel, God with us.


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