As humans we all experience anticipation in some form or another. As a teenager I anticipated whether or not I would get the leading role in a school play or would I get the phone call I longed for from a new found friend. The anticipation was at times unbearable; it was all I could think of. With the anticipation came impatience, anxiety and possible rejection. Over the years I have learnt that with anticipation, comes the opportunity to trust that all will happen as it should.
Advent, which means “coming” is the beginning of the new Church year in the Christian Church year. It is a season of remembering how the Jewish people were anticipating the coming of a Savior. Their anticipation was recorded to be over several centuries. Anyone who uses the Daily Office as a prayer practice will read the story of the Israelites unfaithfulness to their covenant with God and how their temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed time and time again. With each destruction came the hope of restoration. Each night many who struggle to sleep wait eagerly for a new to come. The new day brings relief from the fears and worries of the night before. Hope is revived again.
With anticipation comes a sense of watchfulness, looking for what will happen next. Will it be a ghost from days past that shows up in the dark or the rising of the morning sun in the east? In the monastic tradition, monks rise in the middle of the night to pray the “Vigils”. They watch with Christ as others sleep. Each night at compline the following
Antiphon is recited: “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.” Then in the words of the Song of Simeon, the monks pray:
“Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see;
A light to enlighten the nations,
And the glory of your people Israel.”
Simeon holds the Christ Child in his arms realizing the waiting for the Promised One is over. What has been anticipated is now fulfilled. With watching in the darkness comes the dawn of a new day.
The first Advent prayer reminds us to put on the “armour of light”. Light becomes a dominant theme throughout this season of waiting. More than ever we need this Light to shine on these uncertain times and reveal to us what is being born anew in our personal and communal lives. Having an Advent wreath of four candles is a spiritual practice that reminds us that the Light of Christ will shine even brighter with the coming Christmas. Each candle represents the four weeks of the Advent season….three purple and one rose candle. The rose candle lit on the third week represents the joy of anticipating the coming of Christ. Practicing the holy anticipation of Advent is way to put Christ back into the Christmas season.