The colors of Advent
Advent arrives each year close on the heels of the change from Daylight Saving Time. That brings a somewhat sudden awareness of lights on the streets as we drive home from work or off to activities in the late afternoon. The red of taillights and stoplights, the green of traffic signals, and the white headlights of oncoming vehicles all jump out of the early darkness. As Advent turns our minds toward Christmas, the red-green-white color scheme seems particularly apt.
Advent can be a time for stopping to recall, reminisce, and reflect. The calendar year nears its end. Nostalgic memories of holidays past flood back – just look at the pattern of older pictures and childhood memories that have populated our daily Advent devotions this year. December deaths and other tragedies during the holiday season come back to haunt us, year after year. Each of these dynamics in its own way can be a red signal that stops us, inviting us to look back and take account of what has been.
Advent can also be a green time of go, go, go. Late fall chores need to be finished before the snow flies. Preparing food, decorating the home, making or buying and wrapping gifts, cleaning the house in preparation for guests, sending cards, choir rehearsals, holiday parties, and sports banquets crowd the calendar and keep us constantly on the go.
Between the stop and the go, it’s little wonder that Advent can feel so hectic. It can wear us out before Christmas ever arrives, and the 12 days of Christmas can seem like a necessary recovery period. Little wonder that it has been filled so successfully with sedentary spectator sporting events and holiday movie-going!
Advent is also white, though, like those oncoming headlights. I had coffee recently with a colleague who is also in ministry. We wondered whether a proper translation of “advent” might be “stuff coming at you!” Admittedly, we said it in the spirit of the go, go, go of our daily lives, but I’ve realized that it’s also a crucial aspect of Advent. It’s the third color that can light our days differently. Because something is coming. That something is what animates Advent at its core.
Stop and go are both things that we do. The bright light that is coming at us is something that God is doing. Just as we are alert to what the driver coming at us in another car might do, so that we can respond to whatever it is, so Advent calls us to be alert to what God is doing. Scripture is full of accounts in which God does the unexpected at the most unlikely times. And God continues to come to be with us, to intervene in our lives, and to grace the world in ways we may not anticipate. If we are to respond to the Lord’s coming, the white light of Advent must keep us alert.
Red, green, and white – the colors of Advent. Stop and go, yes; and also stay alert to what God has coming at us! It’s the world’s life and salvation, day by day.