09 December 2011

Advent in Canada

My semi-annual visit to Canada got bumped to Advent this year. We threw a party for my father's 65th birthday and the next two weekends are the Christmas parties of my mother's side and my father's side of the family. It was such a great opportunity for Matthijs to meet more of my family (and them him) that we couldn't really pass on this chance – despite the fact that I have developed a dislike for travelling during Advent and Christmas Day.

Advent is about waiting and anticipating Jesus' coming – remembering his first coming and anticipating his second coming. It's hard to wait and focus on Jesus' comings when I'm taking vacation, spending lots of time with friends and family, and eating lots of great food. It's hard to wait in anticipation for the joy of Jesus' coming when I'm doing tons of celebrating now already!

It is also hard to be in different churches, especially ones with different traditions of how one ought to celebrate Advent. My church back in Amsterdam is taking the time in Advent to develop awareness about the women working behind the windows, a project that's close to my heart and one I would have loved to have been able to participate in more. And during the community's daily chapel services, we choose not to include the usual song of praise as a means of remembering that Advent is a time of restraint and waiting.

But where I am here, Advent is very much an anticipation of Christmas, including the celebration of Christmas. Most everyone has been playing Christmas songs for awhile now, and even in church we sang Christmas songs already celebrating Jesus' birth. Although I grew up with this, I now find it unsettling. How do I look forward to something that hasn't happened yet if I am now singing about it as if it's already happened? When I was walking past the manger scene at the church, I have to admit that I somewhat loudly exclaimed my surprise: the baby Jesus was already lying in the manger! The sweet lady behind me acknowledged that she hadn't really thought about that, but that I had a good point. Her reaction helped me find perspective again. She is also anticipating Jesus' coming and is doing so in the way that she finds familiar and knows best. Things being different here – and the Christmas-like joy found in seeing my family again – does not make Advent any less Advent. I am still waiting for Jesus to come, and it's hardly a bad thing if He shows up in unexpected places, like in other people, in church, or even a manger.

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