I am a liturgical nerd. For a time in my life, well before I was ordained, I would coordinate my shirt on Sunday mornings with the appropriate color appointed for the liturgical season. And I have feelings – strong feelings – that blue, not purple, is most appropriate for Advent’s season of preparation. This, however, isn’t a column about that.
Instead, the question on my mind is this: How do you prepare for everything you know being on the cusp of change? And I mean big change, no-going-back-now change.
Some of you might be thinking, “great, just another pandemic reflection.” And sure, examples abound of, “if I only knew on February 15, 2020, what was going to happen in the next month.” Or, “I’d do Christmas 2019 so much different if I knew it was the last ‘normal’ Christmas for many years.”
Good news, then, for you. This also isn’t a column about that.
Neither I, nor you, nor anyone else holds a clear glimpse into the future. The tricky thing about change is that it is only really observed, considered, and measured once it’s in the rearview mirror. And it’s pure luxury for the few instances where change can be anticipated and one can really (em-)brace its affects.
There’s something particularly counter-cultural about Advent, about starting the year with a season of preparation. When I think about the secular calendar, I think of January as a time of new beginnings, yes, and a time of change. I don’t often think of it in terms of preparation.
Consider the practice of New Year’s Resolutions. Many people, for many different reasons, will often create a New Year’s Resolution about physical health, their relationship with food, or some other aspect of their physical existence. From the simple, “I’m cutting out my daily afternoon Snickers bar” to the more complicated, “I’m going to lose three pant sizes.”
Already these Resolutions are set up in challenging conditions. Other than the final four digits in the date, nothing materially changes between December 31 and January 1. Winter holiday leftovers may still be being consumed. The festive treats and sweets probably haven’t been polished off.
It’s a strategic flaw, not holding space for preparation.
Think about in your church or ministry. I know that for even the most beloved traditions in the settings in which I’ve ministered, there’s always a reflection after the event of some aspect, “We really need to change that for next year.” Yet, how many times do we conflate preparation with the actual tradition itself? The process of reflection, of saying, “We really need to change that,” becomes a sort of ritual echo of the tradition rather than a mantra of inspiration.
Or, one of my personal favorite ironies: how many of our churches hear sermons preached, read newsletter columns written, or listen to casual sharing on the thematic trope of Christmas decorations already being moved out for sale in stores before Halloween – only to inch up our own use of Christmas songs, carols, hymns, and decorations earlier and earlier in December? (Guilty as charged!)
Too often we reduce preparation to tasks on a checklist rather than practicing an art of preparation that opens us and prepares us to be more fully present, more fully whole – indeed, more fully prepared – for the wonder and joy of living and being.
I love that our liturgical calendar turns the page from the old year into the new with a whole season of preparation, resisting our impulse to skip ahead to the main event.
So I loop back to the question I asked at the start: how do you prepare for everything you know being on the cusp of change? Because it is. And the beauty of Advent is the practice of remembering that constant truth.