It’s funny. For all the advertising noise that accompanies the Christmas shopping season, Advent sneaks up on us. Perhaps the racket actually helps mask the approach of this season. By Thanksgiving our ears are ringing so much that it seems like we’ve been singing carols since Halloween of last year. (Some of you may adore Christmas so much that you really have been singing carols for that long, and far be it from me to disapprove.) Hidden beneath the sounds that make Christmas seem closer than it actually is, that holy day has crept surprisingly near.

In a way, that’s how it has always been. God’s incarnation in Jesus was so long in coming, and yet when it happened, almost nobody seemed ready. The season of Advent also looks “ahead” to Christ’s expected return, and we are promised that this “second coming” is as unexpected as the first. If, as a more literal reading has it, Christ will return physically once and for all, many of us will be shaken awake by the tearing open of the skies. In a more spiritual sense, we can probably look back and see moments that we’ve missed the light of God’s presence when it came in the bleary darkness of what we thought was night. If we remember carefully, we might recall that while we were nodding off, the hope we were waiting for crept closer.

Our tradition knows that the coming of Christ is often lost among the very things we hope will keep God at the front our awareness. This knowledge has led us to focus on “remaining awake” during this season of lengthening darkness, so that when the first beams of light reappear on the horizon, we can join the happy watchers in proclaiming the good news. Whether we expect a single cosmic moment of Christ’s return or countless tiny intimations of the divine presence, Advent invites us to re-tune our hearts and minds so we recognize the light when it shines. Re-tuning may mean taking on a faith practice that doesn’t connect with us during the rest of the year, but that exercises a little-used part of our soul. Or it may mean clearing away the clutter, even when what gets cleared away is an otherwise vital part of our spiritual life.

It’s fashionable to complain about how busy the holiday season keeps us, as we race between parties, worship services, stores, and family gatherings. Certainly, some of us have significant reasons to complain: holidays can bring painful feelings to the surface, coupled with the expectation that we should be cheerful and enjoy ourselves. For many of us, however, this month-long interruption in our normal lives may be just the thing to focus our attention on new ways that God is present throughout our lives.

You may want to try out a new form of prayer during the Advent season. An Advent calendar may help you focus your expectation, or you could light candles at home to symbolize the hope, peace, love, and joy you seek in God’s presence. If you have never used a daily devotional reading, try out These Days (available in the South Room of the church) or the online devotional Following the Star. If traditional forms of prayer don’t connect with you, or if you need a break from “prayer,” choose a special project to share with someone in need of God’s love.

My prayer for you is that some unexpected new space will open up for Christ’s presence in your life this Advent. May we all be awake to the light and yet joyously surprised by it.

In Christ’s peace,