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Celtic Advent: Re-situating our Hearts in this Christmas Season

By Matthew W. Humphrey, Director of Theological Education

Many of us have traditions surrounding the Christmas season. The time we go and get the Christmas tree. Carol singing. Family parties and dinners. Decorating the house with lights. Our faith tradition offers ways of grounding this season as well, beginning long before Christmas in the season of Advent. Advent is an opportune time for we who care for Creation to re-situate our hearts away from consumption and towards compassion and care.

The four Sundays preceding Christmas (Nov. 29, Dec. 6, 13, and 20 this year) are a time of waiting in the dark and learning to “prepare the way” for Christ. To make some room in the Inn-of-our-hearts for the birth of Jesus Christ in our midst. This is vital work – preparing for a high feast in which we remember and celebrate the incarnation – that radical moment of the Creator entering the Creation to live as one of us. But there is another tradition surrounding Advent which I will be practicing this year and I encourage you to consider as well.

Celtic Advent extends these four Sundays into a full 6-week period (40 days, mirroring that of Lent in anticipation of Easter) embracing a time of preparation to be sure – but through fasting and prayer. This is an ancient tradition, long practiced by the Orthodox, and one which may offer us wisdom in 2020. Throughout Celtic Advent (which begins November 15) I will be offering a weekly reflection, drawing on the appointed passages in the Hebrew Bible, Celtic themes around Creation, and practical steps we might take to re-situate our lives away from the economy of consumption and towards God’s economy of Creation.

What might embracing this extended Advent look like?

Consider some fresh approaches to fasting and prayer.

Fasting

Fasting is the slow work of retraining our daily practices to more deeply match the intentions of our hearts and the life God has invited us into. What is pulling you away from that and what invitation do you feel drawn to in this regard?

Having just completed a very heated election season, (in several Canadian provinces and in the USA), perhaps it is a good season to fast from ‘doom-scrolling’ social media OR embrace a broader media fast for yourself, your roommates, and your family.

  • Our family is going to use this season to fast from screens during key family hours of the day (with some exceptions given as needed) and to help one another resist the urge to embrace a device when we might otherwise embrace one another.  It is a way of re-claiming our own focus on what we value.
  • Consider fasting from all the efforts to get you to buy something this Christmas.  You might experiment with a “buy nothing Christmas” or giving gifts which are homemade. But long before doing that, we might just start with noticing how often you are being prompted to buy something – keep notes and you will be surprised! Work to resist it.
  • Perhaps a traditional fast from meat (with its ecological footprint) or alcohol (a common comfort through a stressful holiday season) is worth exploring?

Prayer

The heart of prayer for Advent is the anticipation of God’s inbreaking. How might we envision this in our life in Creation? In our watershed? Amidst the many concerns and deep grief we bear about the state of the world? How can we draw to God in prayer?

Advent is my favourite season of the year – a time of opening myself to what God is newly bringing to life within me. Advent prayers work with this image of birth – how can I make room in the Inn for all that God is bringing to life within me?

  • Christine Sine has recently published Towards the Light: Advent & Christmas, a beautiful little book of essays and explorations that can guide you this time of year.  She shares one of her favourite Advent prayers: “I choose Joy.” How, in choosing Joy for this season, might you re-situate your heart and re-order your priorities? How might this shape your relationship to Creation?
  • I am committing to daily walks in Advent – and taking my chocolate lab along with me, who is ever my teacher in choosing the path of joy! While I’m easily tempted to spend that 20 minutes on work emails, the joy comes in the practice.
  • Finally, this is a very busy time of year. Consider praying with Psalm 62: “For God alone my soul in stillness waits.” Saying this out loud won’t change all of your circumstances overnight – but it may just change your heart to desire more of the silence and stillness that God grants. Trust that this desire for God is a sign of God already at work in you.

The goal here is not to prove yourself worthy or righteous – if you start to catch yourself in that frame of mind, take a few days off! Rather, it is to take small steps to live more deeply in the life we’re called to, to re-situate our hearts, such that our lives can be more fully aligned with what God is already doing and coming to do in our midst. I hope you will join me!