This school year, our younger daughter’s preschool offers a weekly yoga class. She has shown me all sorts of fun poses, but my favorite part is the yoga breathing she is learning. The first time she showed me, I was so excited. I have wanted to give my children the gift of cleansing breathing since they were born. That same breathing had gotten me through each pregnancy in my prenatal yoga classes. I knew how restorative that kind of breathing could be. But I was not sure the practice would stick – I mean, how many mellow, breath-controlled preschoolers do you know? So, imagine my surprise a few weeks ago, when my daughter was in the midst of an epic ramp up and all of a sudden, she stopped and said, “Wait!” I froze, and watched her close her eyes, take in a deep breath, and slowly let the breath out. “Do you want to do another one?” I tentatively asked, afraid to spoil the magical moment. She closed her eyes again, drew in a slow breath, and let the breath back out. She opened her eyes and smiled at me. Temper tantrum and tension gone, a renewed, calmed child remained.
I do not know about you, but I find myself longing for the deep calming breaths that Advent can offer us too. Normally, we as a country take a sacred moment at Thanksgiving, gathering with loved ones, sharing a meal, saying prayers of Thanksgiving. But we only get the one day – sometimes only a half-day. Because the retail industry wants us to forget about Thanksgiving, and jump right into Christmas shopping. They lure us in with sales and deals, and they know we either need to occupy all those loved ones who came into town – or we need to escape them, and so we hit the pavement, get bombarded with Christmas tunes, see trees and towns already decorated, and our minds start to cloud with a huge, percolating to-do list.
But this year, with Thanksgiving earlier in November, we got an extra week – an extra Sunday that was not Advent 1, an extra week before we even entered December, and an extra week to breathe before the chaos really begins. Our secular calendar seems to finally be in sync with our liturgical calendar – the calendar that tells us to use this season of Advent as a time, not of preparing the hearth, distributing the gifts, and attending the parties, but instead, preparing our hearts, distributing acts of grace, and attending the path leading to the Christ Child. The secular calendar seems to be inviting us to do the same thing the liturgical calendar invites us to do – to take a breath, to ground ourselves, to breathe in some peace.
That is why we start Advent today with Lessons and Carols. Lessons and Carols is a service different from other Sundays. We do not introduce the lessons in the same way. We hear more music. We squeeze in moments of silence. We do not receive the holy meal. The church offers us this totally different service as a way of saying this season is totally different. And then, the service walks us through all the ways this season is different. This season is not just baby Jesus in a manger. This season is remembering Adam and Eve’s sinfulness, remembering the promises God makes over and over to redeem God’s people, remembering the amazing, terrifying moment when a baby in a womb was the worst and best thing to ever happen, and then to remember that in the child we are anticipating, the kingdom of God comes near. In order to even consider that grand, sweeping narrative, we have to let go of some things – let go of how we always do things so that we can be graced with the way God is doing things.
That is my hope for you this Advent season. That you might take a cue from the extra week you just received from the secular calendar and use that week as your grounding for a calmer, more intentional, more life-giving, breathing season. Breathe in the presence of our God, and breathe out the self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-pity. Breathe in the coming of the Christ Child, and breathe out the busyness, consumerism, and forced good cheer. Breathe in the calming, unifying Holy Spirit, and breathe out the sins, disrespect, hurtfulness of yesterday. You might open your eyes and realize the gift of Advent is way better than any gift you will get this Christmas. Amen.