The Rev. Tessa and Jon Leiseth are the Young Adults in Global Mission program coordinators in South Africa. In this entry in their blog, Tessa writes about experiencing Advent in a different culture. To support Tessa and Jon, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.
I’m horribly fond of Advent. But this year, it hasn’t been the same. Instead of snow and darkness, I have been in light and heat. In the midst of simple living as well as having recently relocated with only suitcases, there weren’t the usual bins of Christmas decorations to pull out or the typical rituals of Advent worship, Christmas programs, baking cookies, etc. And while I was missing the cultural rituals we had established for December in the United States, I was also missing the crisp cold and hushed silence of early December darkness I knew so well.
But are these things Advent? Of course not. They are my cultural experiences of Advent. But Advent itself is not about cold or dark. It is not about making Christmas cookies or decorating the tree. Yes, those things can help one prepare and anticipate. But they are not Advent.
In the midst of those ponderings, I realized that I am actually experiencing Advent. Advent, in my definition this year, is a season of waiting, yearning, and hoping for the in-breaking of God’s fullness. It is a season where we are clearly close to the “now” of redemption and we are clearly “not yet” arrived at God’s fullness of redemption.
I have been immersed in South African life for the last six months. I have been accompanying young adults who are living and serving in places that know marginalization — economic and racial marginalization. We have together exclaimed an Advent cry: “Come, Lord Jesus. This is not the kingdom you spoke of. This is not your dream of fullness of life for everyone. Come, Lord Jesus. Set us all free.”
In my own life, I, too, am in Advent. Our family is now in the United States — to celebrate the holiday with family but especially to access some health care so that Jon can figure out some medical issues he’s been experiencing. We have been plunged back into the crisp cold and hushed silence of December in the far reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. We wait. We wait for knowledge, for understanding, for health. We wait for the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. And while we wait, our hearts are in several places — here with our bodies in North America. And with our sisters and brothers in Christ in South Africa. We all wait. And we all cry, “Come Lord Jesus, come!”