We’ve all heard the term “mood music.” It refers to the power music has to set a tone, move us through different feeling states. So, rap gets us moving, excited, determined; smooth jazz slows us down, makes us mellow, lowers the temperature: a lullaby eases us into sleep. Each one teases us into a particular mood.
Over the course of the Church year, the different liturgical seasons try to accomplish much the same thing. Their words, colors and rituals are meant evoke certain feelings, tease out a mood inside of which we can dive deeper into some aspect of God’s Good News. Easter, with all its touches of fresh new life; Lent, with its somber purples and calls to repentance; Christmas, its sparkling lights piercing the darkness.
What about the Advent season we begin this week? What is its signature mood, the temper of its time? A clue comes in the word itself, “ad” meaning toward, and “vent,” conveying something that’s coming — “toward the coming.” With its forward-leaning readings and rituals Advent would turn our attention to what’s ahead, what’s on the way and about to appear. It’s the season of waiting, of conscious, active expectancy.
Even the Advent color reinforces its meaning, a signature mixture of blue and purple with a hint of light coming from its center, an inner glow straining to penetrate an outer darkness. It’s a tinge that carries Advent’s mood, something just on the cusp of bursting through.
Hence the question, how we might open ourselves to what is just ahead – better, to who is about to come? How become more ready to receive God’s future when it arrives?
Over the centuries, believers have prepared in various ways, e.g. putting up those early lights, or some fasting, or in our Vincentian tradition, feeding and clothing the hungry. But there’s one anticipatory practice whose direction runs counter to all this activity — becoming quiet, taking steps to slow down and just listen. Psalm 80 catches the mood, “Lord, make us turn to You; let us see Your face and we shall be saved.” Mark’s gospel is more direct: “Be watchful, be alert; you do not know when the time will come.” (Mk 13:33). Be an Advent listener.
Listen for the stirrings of God’s Spirit within, which might come as faint murmurings and inclinations, subtle infusions of strength and resolve, inner promptings to forgive someone or reach out to a stranger. Another way of listening is visualization – imaging the scene of that peaceful stable in Bethlehem, the sky full of stars, the shepherds and the couple sitting there in silence, attentive to who it is lying in that crib, watching and waiting for God’s presence to show itself in this infant, the Christ Child.
Though quieting down in this hectic pre-Christmas season is a challenge, it’s a step worth taking for us who would heed Advent’s summons to be watchful and ever more receptive to the different ways God comes among us. This certainly means God’s arrival as this little Child. But it is also found in the daily invitations we receive in the course of the season to be more generous and concerned for all of God’s people the world over.