The View from Bolton Street

As we prepare for Advent I thought it worthwhile to put together some thoughts on what Advent can mean for non-Christians or for those who are ‘Christian-Adjacent’ (those who celebrate ‘cultural’ Christmas but not the religious aspect of it). Because we Episcopalians in particular are snobby about Advent, it seemed like a good opportunity to explore whether there is value in this season of preparation before Christmas Day. So here goes — “Advent - It’s not just for Christians Anymore!”

Advent IS the season before Christmas - which for most Christian Adjacent folks means shopping, decorating, parties and Chocolate advent calendars (or Whiskey, Wine and Cheese if you roll that way). You might have an advent calendar at home counting down the 24 days before Christmas, or you might remember the German chocolate advent calendars your parents got you as a child.  But Advent actually starts (for Christians at least in the modern era) the First Sunday of Advent which is four Sundays before Christmas. This year it starts this week December 2nd.

In the American context, Advent is a stressful time of year. Often work, finances, family and social obligations all pile up leading to something like a train wreck at the end of the Month/Year because everything seems to have to happen at once.  You have to get all the gifts, pay all the bills, go to all the parties, make all the deserts, see all the people, and expend a lot of energy — much of which is fun! But it also piles up. In truth, this is a terrible way to prepare for any holiday because you’re gonna get to the end broke, tired, overweight, and stressed out.

Don’t do that.

Please note: I don’t say this with any kind of judgement. I have all of the same pressures and stresses and despite my best intentions will likely end up the same way at the end of the month. But a little moderation can help, and taking a more spiritual and wholistic approach to Advent can help us all.

Because Advent IS a season of opposites. It is a season of Preparation and Cleaning Up. Of building up and tearing down. Of celebration and of fearless reflection on what isn’t going quite right. In theological terms it is dealing with the ‘already’ and preparing for the ‘not yet.’

And YES it makes sense that Advent falls in winter - even though Jesus maybe probably wasn’t born Dec 25. But put aside your ‘Jesus isn’t real because Christmas is a stolen pagan holiday’ conspiracy theories for now, and consider why Advent falls in Winter.  

Advent falls in winter because we have just finished the harvest. We need to look back and take stock at how we did, even as we make provisions for the winter ahead and prepare ourselves for the new birth of Spring.

And YOU need some time to do that too. Even if you live in a big city or you can’t grow a cactus in the desert.

Advent is a season to breathe. To reflect. So do it.

Right Now. Breathe.

(Breathe. Pause. Breathe Again)


Crazy right? How was this year? Hard? Scary? Painful? Joyful? Rich? Unbelievable? A lot has happened, whoever you are, and it is valuable to take stock in it from time to time.

Ask yourself: What did you do well this year? and give thanks for that. What did you not do well?  And give thanks for the lessons learned, while also considering how you might do better in the future.

  •    That person you blew up at because the President is a jerk - can you repair that relationship?

  •    That neighbor who you’ve been angry at for something but never actually said a word to?

  •    That person you are dying to be friends with but don’t know how to begin the conversation?

Advent is a good time for all of that.

Because Advent is a good time for fearless moral inventory. To practice an examined life.  You are NOT all that. But God does want you to be better. And self examination is part of that. So in Advent we need to spend some time righting wrongs, making amends, healing old wounds — local and global.

Send some money to those kids on the border. Support a community center in your city. Send a check to the boys and girls club.

But we also have to get ready...

Now in the Christian world we are getting ready for salvation. For the light of Christ.

But that may not be for you. But you still need to get ready for the light! And not the hazy light of a too drunk Christmas party! But the light of opportunity. Of hope. Of blessing. And we have to be ready when that light comes into our lives. What would you change about your life if you knew that kind of once in a lifetime opportunity was on the horizon? How would you prepare?

  •    You might reach out to family and friends. Strengthen your relationships.

  •    You might throw a party + foster some new friendships.

  •    You might spread some joy to unlikely or unexpected places.

  •    You might DREAM about what the future could look like.

You might take some time alone this season to contemplate the changes and chances of this life — and dare to imagine what the universe has in store for you in the life you have left.

And you might also consider what has really brought you joy, really made life worth living, really inspired and excited you — and conspire to do more of that in the year to come.

Wishing you a blessed #Advent - whatever you believe #ItsNotJustForChristiansAnymore