Advent is full of sweet memories for me. When the girls were small and we lived in Detroit, we sat at the piano every evening, lit the advent candles and sang advent hymns. One of the girls would read the daily verse, and the other the prayer of the day. They took turns opening the advent calendar and putting the quarter in the advent quarter-folder. Then we closed with another hymn. In an otherwise crazy season, this small ritual was a moment of grace and peace.
Such moments don’t just happen; they are decided upon. And to work they need to be decided upon just once at the beginning. If we decide each evening based upon our mood and schedule – whether we feel up to it, whether we have time, etc. – then it will lose its power to grace our lives. Then it becomes a daily task rather than a structure of our life together.
We are creatures of routines. Every parent of young children knows that the child forms a bedtime routine and there is no skipping pages or opting out tonight. We also know it helps ensure that teeth are brushed and clothes chosen for tomorrow. There are rituals about big days like Christmas. On Christmas morning our girls always had to wait at the top of the stairs for us to go down and get the camera ready (and check that we hadn’t forgotten anything). It was a ritual inherited from my own childhood. There is something delightful about pictures of squirmy, eager children in their pj’s.
There are routines also for ordinary things. The way we make coffee. The way we proceed through a grocery store. Sundays growing up we always came home for bacon and eggs after church. I still associate the aroma of bacon with the sounds of a football telecast and changing out of church clothes (even as young children we always wore a coat and tie in those days, and taking it off was its own little liberation). At the church I served in Westland, Michigan (after Detroit), we had two services with Sunday school in the middle – so it was always late when the girls and I finally left church. Our routine then was to swing by an upscale grocery store with a nice deli and baguettes for sale for our Sunday lunch. Rhythm. Routine. Structure but not a prison (sometimes we made grilled cheese). A pattern that forms memory and shapes identity.
For members of a community in Christ the rhythm of life is Sunday worship. Few individual Sundays stand out in our memories, but the pattern is there. The ordering of life that shapes the spirit. And the year has a rhythm: from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost and back to Advent. Again, there are few individual seasons that we remember. We just remember the character of Advent, the quality of Lent, the candlelight on Christmas Eve, the soup suppers in Lent, and the trumpet sounds of Easter. We remember the color of hope in Advent and the royal purple of Lent (from the purple robe the soldiers put on Jesus to taunt him about the claim of his kingship). We remember the flowers of Easter and the red flames of Pentecost. And we remember the persistent presence of bread in our hands and the taste of wine and the reminder that we are welcome at God’s table – both now and in the age to come.
We begin a new year with Advent, a new journey through the story of Jesus born and crucified and raised and ascended, working grace and mercy and calling us to the same. And in that rhythm of the year, year after year, we are rooted ever more deeply in grace and hope and joy.