The season of Advent is always about anticipation. We anticipate, long for, await the coming of the Christ-child on Christmas Day. But this rhythm of anticipation is in contrast to a cultural practice of the Christmas season: an immersive season of celebration, gift-buying, eating, and music that demands we engage right now, right away, all season long.
How might we engage Advent in a fresh way this year? What if we could use the power of our senses — our body’s natural gifts of touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound — to deepen our anticipation of the coming of Christ? All around us, we are invited into a full-sensory extravaganza of Christmas celebration — here and now — even at the outset of December. Perhaps there is a way to faithfully engage our senses in a way that subversively treasures the longing and anticipation of the Advent season.
Let’s start with our sight. What we see can stir up memories and emotions. Perhaps part of your tradition includes setting out your nativity scene or crèche at home. Depending on how (and when) you choose to place the baby Jesus, it can also deepen your sense of anticipation. In many Christian homes and churches, Christ is not added to the manger until Christmas Day! What would it be like for you to look upon the manger longingly, with Christ noticeably absent, during the season of Advent? Would this practice invite you to long for Christ’s coming a bit more this year?
How about smells? Or tastes? Many cultural celebrations of the Christmas season involve baking and savoring meals with loved ones. A way to deepen this experience during the coming season may be to find a new recipe that ties into the Biblical story — maybe you could learn about making flatbread like Mary and Joseph might have eaten on their journey to Bethlehem. Or maybe you have some incense, similar to the gift the Magi brought the newborn king. How might burning this in your home during the Advent season invite you to reflect on the deep hope that we find in Christ this year?
I love Christmas music. My ears will be filled with the Amy Grant’s “Tennessee Christmas” and Sufjan Stevens’ epic carol collection all December long — the Bing Crosby record is currently on our turntable. However, a way I have learned to practice the anticipation of the season of Advent is by spending time in pronounced silence. Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with the sounds of jingle bells and carols. What might it be like to also set aside space in your home or car, for silence? How might you breathe in the stillness and depth of this season as a part of your preparation practice?
One of the most important ways we experience this season is through the sense of touch: the embrace of a loved one at a family gathering or the hand we hold as we say “grace” at dinner. My invitation to you is to deepen the meaning and intention behind each of these encounters. How does the closeness of friends and family draw you closer to the longing that the expectant mother, Mary, must have felt anticipating the birth of her baby boy? How do your encounters with the people around you invite you into tenderness this season?
This Advent, we are going to be examining the church’s Advent cycle through our senses. My hope is that our church community has an opportunity to encounter the story of Jesus’ birth with our whole selves — body, soul, and spirit; touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Come along on this journey, bringing all that you are, to come and celebrate the King.
Grace and peace,