This weekend as we enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers and cheer on our favorite team, many churches prepare for the celebration of Advent. The word advent comes from the Latin word meaning “adventus” or coming. I like to think of the word advent as related to the word “adventure.” Every year about this time it feels like an adventure for us Christians to balance a culture that encourages us to buy more, worry more, decorate more, relate more, do more —with the message of an Advent season that calls us to watch, wait, be still, and prayerfully pay attention for the coming presence of God in our world and in our lives.
I will never forget one Thanksgiving holiday years ago when I felt this tension of the Advent. It was Thanksgiving afternoon, and my young daughter wanted a Zhu Zhu pet for Christmas. A Zhu Zhu Pet was a furry, fluffy, stuffed animal with batteries and 15 years ago, Zhu Zhu Pets was the hot item for the Christmas season. On Thanksgiving afternoon, my brother received intelligence from the internet that a limited shipment of Zhu Zhu Pets had arrived at the local box store and if we were in line when they opened at midnight, we might have a chance to secure the item on the wish list.
That Thanksgiving evening the temperature dropped into the twenties. My faithful brother and I put on our warm clothes. We jumped in the car and turned our wheels toward the Zhu Zhu Pet mission. We felt like adventure seekers. We were on a quest. We were ready to conquer!
These feelings of great hope soon began to leave us when we arrived at the store only to find hundreds camped out in line. Some of the first folks in line ate their Thanksgiving meals at the glorious gates of the toy store. We spoke to some of the shoppers as we walked and walked and walked to the back of the line. Talking to fellow midnight shoppers, we soon discovered that many in the throng had Zhu Zhu Pets on their wish list. As we did the numbers in our head and reached the back of the line, we realized that there would need to be another way to accomplish this mission. We felt a tinge of defeat.
We retreated to the car. We turned on the heat and we began to feel a little better as we drove through the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts drive-thru and secured a “Hot, Fresh, Now” treat. I will never forget the moment of enlightenment, or sanity, when we both realized together, “There must be a better way.”
The season of Advent offers a better way. The season of Advent uses words like hope, peace, joy, and love to point to something much grander than any purchase on a wish list. The good news of Advent points to the promise of a way of life found in Jesus — the one who comes to save, restore, and connect us to God. I give thanks that we eventually found a Zhu Zhu Pet for my daughter that year, but more than anything, I give thanks that there really is a better way of living life than the rushing and reacting to the sounds of a world always driving us to reach for more.
I love this Advent prayer from the late Henri Nouwen:
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen.
Dr. Cory Smith is the Senior Minister of Auburn United Methodist Church. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, The Candler School of Theology at Emory University and Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He is married to Alicia, and they have one daughter, Sarah Morgan.