Advent begins quietly. Like the humble coming of the infant God who was born to die, rise, and return to us as reigning King, Advent itself comes to us humble and soft-spoken. It is a candle lit in a window or on a table. Advent marks a time of becoming quiet, clearing out clutter of our souls, bowing the heart, forsaking some of the daily distractions and pleasures. Advent is the time for being still and making ready.
The work of making-ready – cleaning house
Advent, like Lent, is a truth-telling event. Before we can really be ready for the coming of the King, we must first face the truth about our own condition and clean our house. By “clean our house” I mean the old-fashioned term “coming-clean”, not any attempt to fix or repair or make our house more presentable by our own efforts. Making us presentable for the King is the Lord’s own work. Our part of that is telling the truth about our real and immediate condition – naming our needs, fears, hurts, resents, angers, longings, hopes. Being willing to do this is the first step of making ready. The naming those things that dwell in us in places we often don’t want to talk about is the next step. Laying them down in surrender in the hands of the King is the next. This is where we will find peace and this is where we will be made ready to wait with hope and expectation. This is a way to empty out the clutter of our own hearts. In my own life, I know this practice to be tried and true. It is a practice of getting myself out-of-the-way. This is what Madeleine L’Engle called the gimmes in her magnificent book on Art and Faith – Walking on Water. It is the practice of telling God first what we feel our needs are and getting it out of our system so we can then hear and receive what we truly need. Calling it the ‘gimmes’ sounds selfish and immature but, whether it is or is not, there is no where else to start in our cleaning house than where we really are. The Lord loves us to come to Him truthfully and trustingly. Regardless of our real condition – of which He is already completely aware – we will be received with love. This kind of truth-telling on our part is essential for any spiritual grow regardless of time of year or time in our lives.
Nearly always I have to work at getting ready for Advent, and even more for Christmastide. It takes work and a committed effort to quiet myself, to clear away clutter, to listen to a Voice who whispers behind all the shouting of humanity and beyond it. It takes some work to choose to be still when virtually everything in my environment is commanding me to be busy. It takes deeper work to choose to be still and tell the truth that I am often most tempted to simply hide or to hide from. The darkness is my enemy and Advent is the season of facing it. It recognises the season outside of deepening darkness yet does not yield to it. I need this every single day but perhaps most especially now with impending winter before me. This is a vital part of how I tend to the care of my own soul.
As Christians we are often told – rightly – that Advent is the season of waiting. It is. We wait with hope and with expectation for the Light to come that will dispel the darkness. We wait for needs to be answered. We wait for longings to be fulfilled. We wait purposefully and expectantly like a woman waiting to give birth, like a farmer waiting for spring. We wait with trust for Christmas morning.
Finding Resources & Keeping Company
As much as Advent is a season for waiting, it is also a season of choosing and of keeping company.
While there are elements to our soul care that must be done alone, we are made for living in community. We are made to live in the company of others. As my need for a greater rootedness has deepened these past few years, I have begun seeking the company of other pilgrims on the road to Christmas. Receiving some guidance for this season has been good. I practice Advent better when I choose who I share the journey with and choose the way I travel on the journey. Being in the company of others helps me choose more faithfully and more courageously. I am less alone in keeping to the path and my understanding of why I keep these practices has deepened. And listening to those traveling companions has also confirmed the good choices I have already long been making. Some of these friends are well familiar, but some are new to me – all are worthy companions for the road. I hope you find encouragement in their company. These resources have become precious to me for companionship, guidance, and voices of soundness in a loud and bewildered world.
Recommended Reading and Listening for Advent & Christmastide:
Waiting on the Word is a remarkable collection of poetry for reading through the Advent season all the way to Epiphany. I have written about it in an interview with Malcolm Guite who is the editor of this collection and author of eight of the poems. It is a singular work and guide through the Advent season. Last year Malcolm and I collaborated on producing daily offerings for our readers using his poems and my images. This year in the spirit of continuing that blend of arts, Malcolm is working with the highly talented artist Linda Richardson, to give readers a daily gift to anchor the season. You can find more about this on Malcolm’s fabulous website and also follow along on Facebook.
The Circle of Seasons – Kimberlee Conway Ireton
A book I have recently begun reading is written by our own K.C. Ireton and I have loved every page of it! As someone who has had a fairly limited understanding of the church calendar, I am so grateful for what KC. has offered as a beautiful guide to the subject. The Circle of Seasons makes a wonderful companion to Waiting on the Word, Word in the Wilderness, and Sounding the Seasons.
Pilgrim Year – Steve Bell
In addition to being a superb musician, Steve Bell is a very fine writer. He has created an amazing multi-media journey through the Christian Calendar and has made it available in a unique format. The breadth of this effort is astounding and I find myself more nourished, informed and strengthened with every reading. I heartily encourage you to go explore this collection!
Keening for the Dawn – Steve Bell
This album from Steve is one of my favourites and includes an extraordinary song titled Descent that still gives me chills after listening to it at least 100 times, at least in part because it features Malcolm Guite’s eloquent poetic voice. You are welcome to explore more about this release and the friendship between Steve and Malcolm in this interview.
The Advent Project 2016 – Biola University
Some years ago Biola University began a magnificent multi-media project for Advent that is offered again this year. Daily readings with visual art, and accompanied often with gorgeous musical selections are sent to subscribers or you can explore the project on your own. It is worthy of your attention.
Watch for the Light is a collections of readings for Advent and Christmas that I came across only last year but it made a strong impression on me. Like Waiting on the Word, Watch for the Light includes a wide array of sources for readings that are thought prompting and enriching. I used this book through my Advent meditations last year particularly in conjunction with Waiting on the Word, and look forward to exploring it more deeply this year.
Golden Hours – Lanier Ivester and Laura Boggs
For something blissfully beautiful and romantically inclined, here is a lovely new offering from our own Lanier Ivester and her dear friend Laura Boggs – a website dedicated to the pursuit of Christmas! Golden Hours promises to be something off the beaten path, something soothing, inspiring, and refreshing. Let’s go experience it together.
I am grateful to enter this beloved season of Advent & Christmastide in the company of such good friends.
May your days truly be merry and bright as we celebrate the coming of the King!
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about disciple making. Reflecting an irresistible calling to the intersection of faith and the arts, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Cultivating, and of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts. She is President and CEO of a thriving environmental consulting and construction firm based in northern Colorado which she runs with her husband Peter. They are parents to seven children, and are grandparents to a beloved flock of grandchildren. An inveterate book collector and giver, Lancia loves website and garden design, beautiful typography, David Austin roses, Marvel movies, road trips and being read aloud to by Peter. She cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.