Alternative Advent 1

November 27, 2011

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, a season devoted to waiting, yearning, and hoping for the coming of our Savior as we celebrate and reflect on his first coming. Yet, it seems Advent is too often reduced to merely lighting a few candles in church services. So, this year I am reflecting on a few efforts that take Advent to the streets in hopes the spirit of Christmas will trump the focus on shopping. One effort attempting to accomplish exactly that is the "Advent Chapel" in Montreal. A new project this year, the Anglican Diocese of Montreal created the ministry space in the middle of a shopping mall in hopes of creating "an oasis of calm in a hectic mall." Interestingly, the mall is underneath a church, which makes this space already a unique mix of both sacred and profane space. In one of the devotionals on the initiative's website, Reverend Jennifer Bourque articulates the vision for the project by comparing it to the tents of the "occupy" movement:

As Advent and winter draw close, those tents seem flimsy against the elements, yet make a bold claim: this is our space, the people's space, in the middle of the city. The incarnation, as John describes it, is like God pitching a tent. At Christmas, we celebrate God the Word taking flesh--flesh that is study enough to claim physical space, to literally "stand up" in the world. ... Advent is a time of camping out, watching and waiting--waiting for the yearly remembrance of the incarnation, which we know will surely come, again this year, on December 25. But also watching and waiting, with God, for Christ's final coming, for that day on which the whole world will be redeemed and acknowledge that it is truly God's own space. ... We're in the mall for only a month, outsiders to the retail world, trying to carve out a tiny space for hospitality and Advent prayer amid hundreds of thousands of square feet devoted to holiday shopping. We're craning our necks to see where God's reign might be breaking in, even now, even in the mall, even among us. And we're feeling our way, trying to figure out what it might mean to take space as the Body of Christ in this city, in the mall, at this time.
Amen! Hopefully this effort will find ways to break through the shopping season and help people connect with God during this time of Advent.