advent ancient, advent new
let me introduce you to my bestie
Hi, Shannon here! Y’all are in for a treat because I’ve asked one of my best friends to usher us into this new liturgical season. Cameron Bellm is a writer and instructor for the Jesuit Media Lab and also writes the Attention & Astonishment substack (and you should subscribe).
I’m so happy to welcome Cameron here this weekend. Enjoy!
This is my forty-first Advent, and yet I’m still finding myself, as usual, a little unprepared to enter into the darkness of these December days, both figuratively and literally. (Here in Seattle, the sun will soon be setting at 4pm, and that alone requires a bit of psychic preparation.)
All the same, I remain grateful for a spiritual tradition that makes room for the darkness and doesn’t rush past it—welcomes it, even. I love the hush of a Tenebrae service, love the profound darkness that shrouds the church at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, love that we gather at midnight to proclaim the coming of Christmas.
Every Advent is different, each year uniquely sculpted by our own life circumstances and the events of the world around us. And yet, every Advent is the same, marked by the familiar watching and waiting, the anticipation (and the stress!) of the season.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that my conception of this time began to expand, folding over on itself in never-ending layers: every Advent there ever was, every Advent there will ever be, all right here with us, all at once. It started with a chance encounter with one of St. Óscar Romero’s Advent homilies. I was familiar with him as a courageous voice for justice and peace during a horrifically violent period in El Salvador’s history. But I didn’t know that he was also a deeply theological thinker.
His long and sonorous homilies, broadcast into thousands of homes via radio, always brought two stories together: the story of the gospel and the story of his people in El Salvador. The narratives that make up our faith are not, Romero believed, some far-off fairytales, but something happening right here, right now, in every place, in every moment.
With this vision, Romero could not help but see Christ being crucified in the missing, tortured, and massacred people of El Salvador. But he also could not miss the living hope of the resurrection, even as he summarized in every homily the violence of the week preceding it.
Romero faced recriminations and denunciations from every direction, including from the church. There were constant threats against his life (and he did indeed lose it, while saying mass at the altar, just one day after begging his country’s soldiers to disobey orders to kill. He forgave in advance those he knew would take his life.) The things that he witnessed, the things that he endured, have long made me feel that it would have been perfectly understandable if he lost all faith in God, all hope in the goodness of humanity. But he didn’t.
He carried on calling for justice and an end to violence, and he called the church not to stand at a sanitized distance from the events of the day, but to recognize the incarnation of the gospel in our present history.
On the first Sunday of Advent in 1978, Romero stated, “Some want to keep the gospel so disembodied that it does not get involved at all in the world it must save. Christ is now in history. Christ is in the womb of the people. Christ is now bringing about the new heaven and the new earth, and the work of Advent is involved in this vigilance and faith: to discover the fact that Christ is continually coming. Advent is not just four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent is the Church’s life.”
In 2023 we, too, are facing terrible events: horrific wars, humanitarian crises, a climate on the brink of disaster, and endless injustices. And yet Christ is here, Christ is coming, Christ is forever being born, urging us on toward the building of a better, safer, more just world for all people. Advent is our work. Advent is our life. Into the darkness we go, knowing that even there, we will find light.
Cameron has also generously compiled an extensive list of Advent resources, including everything from virtual events, audio and video retreats, written reflections, and more, so be sure to check out her Advent roundup here.
May the Spirit keep you. Until next time,