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Change and the Same: Approaching Advent

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I live by many calendars: academic, Gregorian, liturgical.  One of the blessings of these overlapping cycles is an abundance of time-markers by which to order and reflect upon life.  There are seasons and semesters, holidays and Holy Days.  As they come and go each invites transition, anticipation, and very often, remembrance: Where was I—who was I—when this marker passed last year?

I’m pondering this question as I anticipate the beginning of Advent this weekend.  Some things about my life have changed dramatically since the onset of the liturgical season a year ago. I live in a different place. I hold a different job. Less quantifiable things have shifted, too: I’ve been learning to live with the ups and downs of mental health like never before, and that has changed me in ways I still struggle to express.

Amid these reflections I’ve recalled an Advent discussion I facilitated for the young adult ministry in my church community.  That’s where I was a year ago when this marker passed.  The discussion centered on this poem, A Song on the Feast of the Epiphany by my friend Christine Rodgers.  It is my favorite Advent poem. (Yes, despite the fact that the Epiphany is not celebrated during Advent…).

I’ve been reading the poem over and over again, and it has reminded me that texts can function as time-markers too, not unlike special calendar days.  I read and I remember: How did this poem speak to me a year ago when I read it?  “Be bold like the Magi. Do not tarry, settling into your comfort….” Did I respond to its challenge?  “[S]et out keeping the star in your vision.”  Did I live according to the truths it affirms? “It will lead you to the place you are most in need of, the place where God is.”

“And if an angel warns you in a dream not to return by the old way, please listen.” Have I listened?

There are some words, some truths, some challenges that we need to hear again and again, regardless of how many things change in our lives.  I remember this as I read.  We need to hear them again because, from year to year, some things do not change.  That is another reminder that accompanies time-markers: Some things are the same. 

Even after a year when I have tired to live the Gospel Way with a bit more courage than before, I recognize many of the same shortcomings at work in my life.  I still tarry, settling into my comforts.  I’m still distracted from the things that I espouse to matter most.  There has been immense change, but still these setbacks endure.  Some things remain the same. 

The Advent season reminds us that this also remains the same:  As we await and work toward change in our lives, God’s grace already surrounds and transforms us.  This remains the same. No matter what else has changed or remained the same, God’s star still shines there, above us.  May we turn our faces and boldly step toward it during the journeying season before us…. 

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