Last Monday night, J and I drove across town to the home of our friends Chris and Hannah, for their annual Advent readings. Every year, they make a pot of mulled cider, buy some festive goodies, and invite friends to join them as they light their Advent wreath and read from the week’s lectionary, and from the beautiful book God With Us.
This was our first time attending their readings, but as I listened to the words of Isaiah and Luke (and Scott Cairns), cradling a mug of cider in my hands, it struck me anew: during Advent, we wait together.
Sometimes the spiritual life seems like a solitary journey, a long, solo trek down a road that’s often dark, as you stumble your way forward, talking to a God who never does answer in the way you want him to. The tradition I grew up in emphasized a “personal relationship” with Christ, which is a valid and beautiful thing. But when I struggle, or feel joyful, or have questions, I also work through those times with my community.
After two years at our wee church in Boston, J and I are part of the team of people who make things happen. We helped decorate the church for Advent, with wreaths and candles, and flowers on the windowsills. We help plan services, choose songs, print bulletins. We answer questions and make announcements and wash dishes after the monthly potluck. Sometimes it feels like a lot of responsibility. But we are never alone, even in our small congregation. We sing and pray, grieve and rejoice, live and love, together.
My memories of Christmas, whether musical or literary or simply nostalgic, are filled with the faces of those I love: my parents and sister, my husband, my extended family, my friends, my fellow expats in Oxford. And as I continue to practice Advent (a relatively new tradition for me), I practice it in community.
We light the candles on the wreath; we read Zechariah’s song and Mary’s Magnificat and Simeon’s strange, exhilarating words. We sing all the Christmas carols we can, and we start every service with “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” And we wait for God to come, both as the baby in the manger and as the triumphant King. We wait for his justice and love to break through in our lives.
We wait together. And that is true comfort, and true joy.