There are few things better, in my opinion, than sharing stories. I’ve been blessed recently to be sharing stories with a number of folks – my young godson, my closest friends, some new acquaintances.
And it dawned on me – the same story can change. Depending on the audience and circumstance, different parts may be accentuated, some parts left out altogether. And it’s not just the words (more or less, advanced or basic); it’s the body language, the vocal inflections, the energy and emphasis.
When we tell a story, we make it our own. It becomes part of who we are at that moment, it becomes part of a shared history. And it becomes influenced by the teller in how it is told – and influenced by the listener in how it is heard and received.
Erin Morgenstern, in “The Night Circus” describes how several versions of the same story can emerge:
“Old stories have a habit of being told and retold and changed. Each subsequent storyteller puts his or her mark upon it. Whatever truth the story once had is buried in bias and embellishment. The reasons do not matter as much as the story itself.”
That being said: How do we understand and tell the story of Advent? How do we make it our own and put our energy into it? How do our beliefs and actions embellish and bias (for good or ill) the story as we know it? How do we make this story a priority in the numerous options of stories that we could be telling?
We try to tell the story through the words of scripture, which have brought to us that mystical delight of immanence and transcendence. We try to capture the expression of hope as we pray together – maybe in church, maybe over our Advent wreaths, maybe using some prayer resource at home or in groups. We sing Advent hymns, we do our best to grasp and maintain that ‘now and not yet’ dichotomy without getting caught up in the societal pre-Christmas chaos.
I think one of our great challenges during Advent is how we maintain that Christian sacred space from within that cultural chaos. How we act in all we do throughout the season is another way that we tell the story of Advent:
For some, the story of Advent is about consumerism and sales; of battling others to get the best ‘black Friday’ deals (ignoring the history – or lack thereof – of this shopping day. See BBC’s Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Black Friday or their report on Black Friday Violence )
For some, it is working against the consumer culture with such energy that they almost shame those who do partake in the traditions of shopping, chocolate calendars, out-of-season carol singing, &c.
For some, the story of Advent is a considerable to-do list, where gifts need to be made/bought/wrapped/shipped; where cooking and baking need to be planned/shopped for/prepared/presented; where household chores are continually underway to make sure the home is spotless for those who will stop by. It’s a time of rushing to meet arbitrary deadlines and thereby missing the joy of the season.
For some, the story of Advent is the story of simply Being. Of watching, and waiting, and praying. Of preparing heart and mind and soul to delight in the holy presence that is to come and the holy presence that is already here. It’s a story of expectant patience, of hopeful and joyful faith, delighting in the presence of God. It’s the story of watching the light grow out of the darkness.
For all of us, our story of Advent can be whatever we choose for it to be. We are challenged to be intentional about our choices, recognizing how everything we say and do becomes part of our own story of Advent.
(Still looking for an Advent prayer resource to help hear and tell the story? Try PWRDF’s daily Advent Resource or the weekly While We Wait designed for youth; the national church offers a weekly podcast series or this list of other resources for worship, the Diocese of British Columbia just posted their collection of seasonal reflections.)