Advent: 5am on a Loading Dock

“DIY Advent: 4am on a Loading Dock” ©The Rev. Laurel Dahill, 2015

In summer stock theatre, there’s a very small window of time to clear one show out, and put another show into the theatre. That window is typically less than 36-hours. Musicals are a staple of summer theatre, so the sets are big. Change-overs are chaotic. Carpenters are tearing down the set from the closed show and installing the new set; electricians and sound crew are pulling out cabling and moving instruments; painters are touching up seams; properties crews are putting little things everywhere, and the special effects technicians make it feel like it’s raining and there’s a stampede coming and everything is on fire, all at the same time, while the riggers are yelling “heads!” Changing from one big musical to another in 36-hours is a frantic feat of coordination. It is kind of chaotic.

At some point, round about 4am, there’s a pause. That’s when the old set is out, the new lighting and sound is in, and everyone is waiting for the paint on the floor to dry so the new set can go in. There’s nothing to do but wait. In that pre-dawn time, the crew would get to take a break on the loading dock.

For a few minutes there was stillness and quiet. Birds hadn’t woken up yet and dew was just beginning to form on the grass. We would sit together in silence and watch as the eastern sky would begin to lighten. The world was new and pure and clean. There was an inescapable promise of good things ahead. Everything was right with the world. That might have been my favourite time in the crazy busy world of summer stock theatre.

I like it when Advent feels to me like 4am on a loading dock. Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the world feels like the chaotic hustle and bustle of a change-over. Everyone is moving about doing their thing, trying not to bump into each other; trying to make sure they get their part done; waiting for others to get their stuff done so they can get out of our way and let us finish doing our thing. And we only have a short time in which to get all these things done. Like opening night, the curtain of Christmas is going to go up, whether we’re ready or not.

But it’s not Christmas yet – even if all the stores want us to believe it is. It’s Advent. This is an entirely different season for Christians. Advent is the time of waiting, being quiet, observing the changes happening in the world around us, and being truly present with how God is speaking to us. Advent is that time when we perceive the inescapable promise ahead of us. If we’re doing Advent right, it feels like standing with fellow pilgrims on the journey of faith as the light of the world approaches.

Advent is hard to do. The world around us isn’t interested in being still and waiting on God. We’ve all got Christmas plans that need tending to: family will arrive, parties have to be planned, decorations have to be sorted, and of course there’s all those gifts that need to be gotten and wrapped. As long as we have internet shopping and 24-hr grocery stores, we don’t need to watch for the dawn, because the sun never goes down on Christmas preparations. It’s really hard to be present with Advent in the spirit in which it exists for us. But there are lots of ways to be present with God in this sacred time of year.

This is the first of a series of sermons on how to experience Advent in more fulfilling ways. We’re calling it the Do-it-yourself Advent series, because you too can do Advent in your very own home. It’s easy. For the 4-weeks of this special season, you will get four unique perspectives on the Advent experience, and a take-home instruction sheet on how you can do Advent the way each of the preachers does Advent. If you’ve ever struggled with understanding this season, or spent so much time focusing on Christmas that you miss the special gift that’s already here for you to unwrap, then this series is for you.

I do Advent by embracing the waiting. I love the hopeful anticipation. I love the quiet before the dawn. I love the tenderness of the light that grows and illumines each new, pure, and clean day. In that time I feel closest to God and the most receptive to hearing God’s voice.