By: Brent Bailey
I started celebrating Advent when I realized I was pointed in the wrong direction.
For most of my life, even now, the rhythm orienting my life has been the school calendar. The way I define my place in time usually follows a certain pattern from “The semester’s just starting” to “Things are starting to pick up” to “It’s hectic midterm time” to “It’s like the calm before the storm” to “Don’t talk to me, it’s finals week” to “School’s out, and I’m free!” If you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll usually start my answer with one of those time markers. Describing myself in those terms forms my identity: Because the rhythm of my life is the rhythm of school, the label of “student” is closer to the center of how I perceive myself than many other labels.
In Desiring the Kingdom, James Smith describes how we’re constantly surrounded by different influences trying to form us and orient us and, ultimately, “determine what we love.” He calls those influences liturgies—collections of stories, images, ideals, practices, etc. that are powerful enough to determine for us what we dedicate our time, energy, and attention to. Smith describes a few different liturgies in United States culture, like the shopping mall or the stadium, that have been particularly effective. (The amount of time Americans spend over Thanksgiving shopping and watching football suggests he may be on to something.) Smith argues churches need to offer liturgy so robust it can counteract the pressures of those competing liturgies. The end result is that we’ll love God (and dedicate our time, energy, and attention to God) more than we love material possessions or a football team or anything else.
I don’t remember who it was that described the liturgical calendar to me as a rhythm orienting the lives of Christians. (The longer I stay in Bible college, the more all the books, lectures, and conversations blend together.) Having grown up in a Christian tradition that didn’t use the liturgical calendar, its language was mostly unfamiliar to me, but I started noticing how certain friends seemed to define their places in time by those Christian seasons: “I’m so ready for Advent to arrive.” “This season of Lent has been really rich for me.” I started to wonder whether planting myself on the Christian calendar could form my identity in the same way the school calendar had, whether it might help me to move that “Christian” label closer to the core of my identity.
A couple years ago, I started participating in the rhythm of Advent. Let me be honest: I’m still an Advent baby, and that means I’m still really bad at it—listening to Christmas music before Christmas, accidentally starting a Sunday early last year (Seriously, how hard is it to check a calendar?), that sort of stumbling. But I’ve noticed it’s already beginning to change the aroma of December for me, such that the culmination of Christmas isn’t the post-finals nap or the gift exchange or the viewing of A Christmas Story (Precious as those moments are!). It’s the arrival of Jesus, the one who comes to us where we are and gives us a new identity.
That’s the direction in which I want to move.