Advent Longing

Kyle Norman
How will you enter the new year? This probably seems like an odd question, given that it is barely halfway through November. Wouldn’t reflections on a new year be more appropriate at the end of December, or the even the opening weeks of January? Why begin “new year” ruminations so early? But what if I told you that the new year begins at the end of November? This is when the season of Advent begins.
Journeying through the seasons of the church can be transformative for our spiritual lives. Yes, the liturgical calendar, at times, may appear odd and out of place; we may even question whether there is usefulness in observing the seasons of the church. The truth is, however, liturgical seasons remind us that we are called to live as aliens in this world, to live out of step with the ways and systems that surround us. Liturgical seasons map out the faith with its twists and turns, its changes, and its conflicts. In observing the liturgical calendar, we are invited to walk with Jesus through the various ups and downs of the Christian life.
Our life of faith isn’t just one way. The liturgical calendar gives voice to the various nuances of our faith life. We are given permission to praise, and to pause; to laugh, and to lament. After all, our life of faith isn’t always the high-energy fire of Pentecost. We don’t always feel bathed in the Spirit and empowered for ministry. The solemn penitence of Lent, for example, reminds us that it is okay to be in need, it is okay to struggle. We need Advent to tell us that our deepest longings can be voiced to God on high. We need Ordinary Time to remember that Christ often meets us in the mundane, the routine, and the ordinary.
It can be easy to believe that, somehow, Jesus solidifies all our experiences. Some mistakenly believe that faith in Jesus will render our lives untouchable by anything negative or destructive. Verses such as “being steadfast in hope” or “we are more than conquerors” are twisted to suggest that we will remain unaffected throughout life’s ups and downs.
This is not so. This was never Jesus’ story; it was not the disciples’ story, nor is it ours. Our life of faith ebbs and flows, it has high points and low points. There are times of intense intimacy with God, and times of struggle and silence. There are times where we feel inflamed with passion and evangelistic desire, and times where we want to sit in the ash-heap and cry. The journey of faith is one of longing, celebrating, lamenting, praising, rejoicing, crying, dying, and rising. To live a robust Christian life is to embrace each of these experiences faithfully, to recognize that they are part of the Christian journey. As such, they are places where we are invited to grasp Jesus in a new way. The liturgical calendar, with its journey from Advent to Ordinary Time helps us do just that.
How might you walk with the liturgical calendar this coming year? How might the season of advent guide you into a deeper experience of Christ? The world likes to rush head-on into the celebration of commercial joy. Holiday lights are being displayed, carols and jingles are ringing in the malls. It is a time filled with excitement and frenzy. Advent, however, calls us to be slow. Advent calls us to stop our striving and look upwards. It calls us to recognize our deepest longing, and to give voice to it. “O come, O come, Emmanuel!” we sing. This isn’t a lullaby for a coming baby, it is a cry for liberation and redemption. We long for Christ to come again and ransom us.
Where do you cry out for redemption and liberation? Where do you feel the deepest need in your life? Advent invites you to articulate those things before the Lord. It calls you to dare to believe that the light of redemption can shine in the darkness of that place. More than anything, the season of advent calls us to radical hope, and peace, and joy, and love.
Hope springs from knowing that the light of God shines upon the very place of our need. Joy comes from knowing our cries for redemption do not go unheard. Peace comes from knowing that despite all the zig zags of life, the light of God still makes its way to us. Most of all, the love of God, revealed in Jesus, is fully met where Jesus takes our need upon himself. Thus, more than anything, Advent calls us to believe that even in longings and cries for redemption, we are not alone.
There is something profound about the liturgical calendar beginning at the same time that the world’s calendar draws to a close. Before you jump into the carols and the shopping, the feasts, and the celebrations; before you put up your tree and wrap your house in lights, take a moment to recognise the place where you need Jesus’ presence the most. Where do your cry for redemption? It may be in your marriage, or your work, or your friendships. Whatever it is, recognise that need and hold before the Lord each day as you walk toward December 24th. This may seem like a lot, but if you do this, you will be in a better place to hear the angelic proclamation that “unto you this day is born a Saviour, Jesus Christ the Lord.”

Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of Christian community, and the role of spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found at