I write this on the first day of the last month of the end of the decade that is, as you know, a difficult one to name. Wait, you may be thinking. The new decade has already begun, but no, not really. 2020 is the last year of the decade, the tenth year.
There is something about those zeros at the end of any year that makes New Year’s Eve parties lose their minds, and we love those nice round digits, too. They are pretty and festive and so we ring out old decades, old centuries and millennia when we see zeros.
But we have it wrong. It is esthetically pleasing, but still, wrong.
Not that it matters in the larger scheme of things, but this year it seems especially apt that we recognize the ending of something, the awaiting of something else. For once it feels accurate to use the word “everyone” to describe who has been disrupted by the pandemic and who has been aggrieved by it. We can use the word “everyone” to describe who is waiting, please, please, for an end to the fear and uncertainty.
We are waiting, of course, so, too, Canada and Mexico, and so are my friends in the Czech Republic, and also those in small villages in the Carpathians, and those in Asia and Africa and in places we can’t pronounce or locate on a map.
The observance of Advent is not a part of my tradition. I was raised a carol-singing little Baptist, all gussied up in my freshly starched white cape of a choir robe, big red bow at the throat. In Mary Janes and white anklets I sang my heart out at the Christmas program with my brother and other children, equally gussied up and caped.
We heard about crowded inns and shepherds and angels and Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus on Sundays, but during the week we waited for Santa Claus. There was the tree, you see, and it was tall and sparkly and captured most of our attention the month of December. I thought Advent calendars, once I came to know of them, were just the warm-up act for all that loot come Christmas Day, with those little pieces of candy behind each door.
Surely the primary purpose was to mark time and take the edge off until the main event.
But no, that is not the purpose of Advent, as I have come to understand.
Advent is mysterious and purposeful, a time of waiting and preparation and hopeful expectation. An exercise in faith and patience.
I have a small ceramic Advent wreath from Central Europe, a gift from friends, with instructions to weave greenery in and around the four small candle holders. It usually lives in the back of a drawer because while I admire it, I don’t quite know what to do with it. This year, as my friends talk about their Advent lessons, their observances, I have rescued my Advent wreath from its dark corner and have found it a Christmas home.
I started with a devotion that I dutifully read and worked to contemplate upon, but really, nothing. So I went in search of another. And another, until I found a series of daily readings and contemplations that resonated. In these early days of Advent I am working to establish a routine to light the candle, settle down and settle in, and open up to words and prophesies both ancient and new.
We await so much this Christmas season. The dying of the light, and then its return. The end of suffering and fear and sorrow around a virus we cannot see and don’t fully understand. The return of time with loved ones. We await a vaccine. A sense of safety that allows us to touch each other again. We await the ability to make plans, to travel, to get on with our lives.
Perhaps my daily Advent ritual will not measure up to a proper observance of the season. And maybe that is beside the point. My natural inclination is to be cheerful and optimistic, and I am those things. But these require a looking out, a scanning of the horizon and some outward action of good will.
But for now, in these last days of a decade, in this time, in this season of Advent, I will wait and watch as the days shorten, the dark deepens. I will take a slow look inward. I will walk with the mysterious.