beginning –  noun | \bi-ˈgi-niŋ, bē-\

: the point or time at which something begins : a starting point
: the first part of something

The purple paraments in the church sanctuary announced the season to all who entered on Sunday. With the last bits of Thanksgiving leftovers still in the fridge ready for our lunch, Advent began, heralding the coming of Jesus–then, now, ahead. On cue, we belted out several verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” And the youth director lit the first purple candle of hope during his children’s sermon.

Let the church year begin.

When I first encountered the liturgical calendar followed by many Christian denominations (though never any I was part of until I was an adult) and discovered that the annual marking begins in December, I was baffled. December always felt like an ending to me. The year ends just as I rip off the last page of the calendar. I find it even stranger that the beginning arrives with such little fanfare, such counter-cultural quiet, and such a different kind of waiting. I am well-acquainted with the kind of December waiting that ends with a living room filled with shredded wrapping paper and a dining table loaded with ham and cheesy potatoes. Applying that kind of waiting to Advent, though, leaves us with the anticlimactic Christmas story of a crying baby and more than a hint of cow dung.

What is it we are really waiting for during Advent? What is the newness we are marking as the church calendar starts again its annual rotation? And what do we make of the contradiction between beginning and waiting?


I enter the Advent season with a bit of a sigh after a busy few weeks of work, family obligations, school activities, and a lot of lost time I’m not sure how I spent. During that hectic period, I often let my mind wander ahead to December, when, despite the activity-filled holiday season, I knew I was going to have a little more time. In that way, November was an ending to me this year. And now that December has come and is, of course, busier than I ever imagined it would be (how does that happen?), I feel both the excitement of beginning something new and the burden of needing to wait just a little longer.

Of course, I could just rush in and set to work on all those plans I have made. I could. I have in the past, even the past that includes last month. But rushing in results in a living room filled with shredded wrapping paper and the disappointment of what was inside those packages. Or it leaves us with that unsatisfying hint of cow dung.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, Alexander Pope once wrote, and Advent reminds us that waiting is holy work. “How are you going to receive Christ afresh in your heart this year,” our pastor asked on Sunday. I knew the answer was only in the waiting.

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Photo by Acid Pix, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License. Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.