[Note: Part 1 of a 4-part series.]
I just realized this past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. I didn’t grow up with Advent. Didn’t even know what it meant until college. I’d seen Advent calendars at the grocery store but thought they were all about chocolate, not church.
The Online Etymology Dictionary tells me advent means “important arrival,” . . . “an extended sense of Advent ‘season preceding Christmas’ (in reference to the ‘coming’ of Christ), late Old English, from Latin adventus ‘a coming, approach, arrival’ . . .
So, while big-A Advent is meaningful to some people, with wreaths and candles and such, I tend to feel more at home with the lowercase advent. I need something to look forward to, and I want to know what’s next.
“How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard wrote. These regular old Tuesdays and Thursdays and even Saturdays are the lowercase days of Advent. I’ve decided to celebrate them by looking back—in order to look forward.
Birds lay eggs in spring. That’s what I always thought anyway, but when we were at my parents’ house on the last day of November, my mom noticed something moving in the nest built on the side of their shed. I thought she was seeing things—because what kind of cuckoo lays eggs in Illinois in late November? I watched the nest intently but saw nothing. My dad grabbed a five-gallon bucket to stand on and peered into the nest.
“Well, I’ll be,” he said. “There’s a baby bird in there.”
My grandma lived down the street in a house of wonders. She was a bit of a hoarder—the neat and tidy kind, who kept her treasures tucked away in nooks and closets. Her upstairs cubbyholes were stuffed with fabrics, fat bolts of material you could upholster a couch with and smaller remnants with the receipt still pinned on, fabric store finds just too good to pass up. I remember loving to look through her jewelry box, handling rhinestone brooches and bright gold chunky necklaces and sparkly clip-on earrings as if they were treasures of the sea. I didn’t want to just see these treasures, I wanted her to tell me about each one—narrate them for me.
The Christmas story I know pretty well starts in Luke 2. The part I know almost by heart is from Charlie Brown: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. . . .” But there’s a whole chapter before that, a prologue that tells about a couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth who were getting up in years and had no children. Like other Jewish people of their time, they had not given up hope for the Messiah. The other Zechariah, centuries before, had spoken of the coming Messiah and encouraged people never to give up: “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; / even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you” (Zech. 9:12). I think of Elizabeth and her husband as prisoners of hope, hoping against hope for the Messiah and a child of their own. They might not have imagined they would see both in their lifetime. But they did.
To be continued . . .