Reclaiming Advent is good for Unitarian Universalist souls. So many festivals of light come together at this time of year: Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas and Kwanzaa. There are also Bodhi Day (celebrating the day Buddha gained enlightenment) and Human Rights Day (for me, an old Amnesty International veteran, with it’s symbol of a candle wrapped in barbed wire), two more important days in the month of December reflecting symbols of light at our hearts and minds.
Although Advent is strictly speaking a Christian observance, and a rather recent one, not really establishing itself in the liturgical calendar until the Middle Ages when it became a Lenten-like preparation for Christmas and the second coming of Christ that began with the feast of St. Martin on November 11, I think the season lends itself to much worthy spiritual discipline and practices for Unitarian Universalists no matter what their spiritual path.
Any season that has us focus on our spiritual life in a renewed manner is a good one. The word Advent comes from the Latin Adventus which mean “coming” or “arrival.” The Christian focus is on the coming of Jesus at Christmas (and in some Christian eschatological traditions, the second coming of Jesus at the end of time). Yet in this season we also await the arrival of the sun, and the lengthening of days as we celebrate Solstice. We await the arrival of Kwanzaa to celebrate African America heritage.
Waiting and patience is a central spiritual theme, practice and discipline of Advent for Christians, but it is also one that applies to our other December holy days as well. We wait for the oil in the temple to last for the Maccabees during the days and nights of Hanukkah. We wait, simply sitting with the Buddha to gain enlightenment. We wait for human rights to be respected for everyone, everywhere and mark December 10, Human Rights Day to celebrate the victories and the tears of the struggle for human rights around the world. We wait for the sun to return to higher and higher in the sky in each day, giving us light and life.
The traditional length of Advent is four weeks, each with a theme: faith, hope, joy and love. Celebrating each of these spiritual themes is good and right any time, in any tradition.
Advent takes on a special meaning socially and politically this year for so many of us in the United States as we await the transition to a new presidential administration and hope that it brings for the crisis that confront our nation and our world.
Advent is a season that tells us, as Bob Marley sang, “Out of darkness, there must come out a light.”