It's Advent again, the beginning of the new church year. The day that I write this--the 29th of November--has come to be known as "Giving Tuesday." Which means that "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" are over.
Giving Tuesday is a positive counterpoint to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Black Friday and Cyber Monday coincide with American Thanksgiving and are all about purchasing and consuming. To be sure, many good deals can be found on these days , but life is so much more than what we can purchase.
Giving Tuesday arose as a reminder that we can give back to our communities and to our world either through giving a donation to a charity or volunteering our time. In some of the email reminders I received about Giving Tuesday, it was stated that Giving Tuesday is the beginning of the season of giving.
That's the reminder that I want to share as Advent begins, that this is the season of giving leading into Christmas, the season of celebrating anew the birth of love. One of the recent challenges for churches who observe the church year is that Advent becomes lost in the Christmas celebration, which seems to start at the end of November. In Canada, advertisements for Christmas begin after Remembrance Day. It's hard to let Advent stand on its own and let Christmas be Christmas.
The church season of Advent is a time of waiting; we count down the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas. It can begin as early as the end of November and as late as early December. The focus is on hearing the promises of love and blessing and being reminded that God is the Creator of a world where justice is equally distributed and all deserve the right to live and grow in love and compassion. As a church community, we try to save the actual stories of Jesus' birth for Christmas Day and the season of Christmas--the Great 12 days.
For progressive Christians like Nelson United Church, Christmas is about hearing the ancient stories as metaphor for the understanding that God is with us, which is the literal meaning of the word Emmanuel, a name that is used often during Advent and Christmas; think of the Advent carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. At Christmas, we are reminded of the birth anew of love, compassion, community, solidarity, and peace... just to name a few values that we celebrate.
Wordsmiths who know Hebrew remind us that the word compassion comes from a word in Hebrew that is related to womb. Thus, compassion is about taking into the deepest parts of ourselves and then delivering into the world anew that for which we have compassion. It is a birthing image in which all people can participate; that's partly what Christmas is about.
Advent then is about preparing for this birth of love and compassion. Just as we prepare for the birth of a child, there is waiting and things we can do. So, in this season of Advent, we focus on waiting and wondrous anticipation. We focus on opening our hearts to be compassionate. We focus on the real meaning of this season and the need for peace with justice in our world. This is a time in which spiritual practices like meditation, lighting Advent candles, prayer, having coffee with friends, spending time together in meaningful ways can help open us to this time of wonder and compassion.
Happy Advent... and a blessed Giving Tuesday.