I spent the week before Christmas – the last week of Advent in my Christian tradition – at Ormond Beach in Florida. I am not a morning person, so it was quite a surprise the first morning when I was up in time to watch the sun rise over the water. I’ve never been to the beach in winter before, when sunrise is closer to 7:30 than 6:00 am, but it suits my natural rhythms much better. I found myself rising each morning to rush to the balcony, well before I would normally roll out of bed on a weekend at home. Once or twice I was too late. But most mornings I was just in time for the golden pink that announced the coming sun.
For Christians, Advent is four weeks of waiting and preparation just before December 25th. We’re getting ready for Christmas like all the rest of America, but our focus is on the coming of Jesus Christ, rather than Santa. And if we’re really church-y our focus is not so much preparing for Jesus’ to come as a baby in Bethlehem – that’s already done. Instead we are reading the Biblical apocalyptic texts that speak of a time when Jesus Christ will come again in glory. Perhaps, if we’re honest, we’re wondering how can we ever really be ready for that?
There was a time when, like many Christians, I had conflated the apocalypse, or the “revelation” (which is what the Greek word means) of Christ with earthly horrors and fear. This Second Coming was something I should be afraid of. We use the term for things like “the zombie apocalypse” to talk about Merriam-Webster’s third definition of apocalypse as a “great disaster” and something we hope to avoid. Like many, I had conflated these definitions: seeing Jesus = disaster!
But my deeper readings of the Bible, especially the Book of Revelation, and perhaps even more, my profound prayer relationship with God has turned all that misunderstanding of apocalypse on its head. I realize that when I pray the Christian Lord’s Prayer, as I do at least every week, I am asking for Jesus to come back sooner rather than later: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And this is not something to be afraid of, rather it is a promise I eagerly await – like the coming of the sun each morning.
And so my morning sunrise watch became my practice of Advent – waiting for the sun/Son to rise again. It occurred to me that I did not always know exactly what I was waiting for. Did God have more for me to see and experience than the bright ball of light itself? What about the dolphin out in the water, or the birds flying in formation before the clouds? Was it the color of the sky that held this morning’s message, or perhaps the interaction of the two men checking the water in the pool just below me?
In fact, one morning, just as I was caught up in one of these things – the people, the colors, the birds, the dolphins – the sun itself broke over the water and I missed that first roundness of light. And you know what – when I looked back and saw it, it was still beautiful. I had not missed what God had me waiting for. I was not asleep; I was more awake than ever to the wonder and awe. And I was blessed by the surprise of it.
Another morning the fog rolled in after the sunrise. It was grey and a little chilly. But I had learned the path of the sun. I could guess about where in the sky it was, behind the overcast skies. Maybe my eyes were just seeing what they wanted, but wasn’t the sky just a little bit brighter there behind the darkness.
My journey does not always happen in sunlight, but I have worked to learn the path of the Son. And my Advent preparation made the sweet joy of Christmas morning all the better. “Thy kingdom come. Amen.”
Whether or not you are a Christian, what waiting or preparation rituals do you have in your spiritual life? If you celebrate Advent, what did you do this year? Did it help you prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas? Or again in glory at the end times? In the past I have found lighting Advent candles both at church and at home to be a good spiritual practice, but this year I wasn’t feeling it. This sunrise practice came with surprise and great joy. Do you ever find a new ritual that offers you a deeper understanding of something that you’ve known about or done differently all your life?
This post went a bit deeper into my Christian theology, but I tried not to throw too much out there. You can ask for more information in the comments if you’re interested. And if you ever want to talk more about religion, faith, or your own understandings of the spiritual life, contact me at Openings: Let the Spirit In.