I was asked recently by a faculty member about the meaning of advent. The faculty member was intrigued about Advent and how our school celebrated the season. I was struck by the yearning of this community member to better understand the significance of this time of year. As a priest, and a person of faith, this conversation compelled me to provide my own understanding about the meaning of Advent and how it can impact all individuals.
Recently, I have become a big fan of the Netflix original series,” Stranger Things”. The series explores the dynamic between “things” of this world and “stranger” things that might lie beyond human logic or science’s ability to fully understand those things. The real stars of the show, however, are the Middle School kids who, though outsiders themselves, have formed a strong community and decided to work together for the common good. One of the big themes for the kids however as they battle the “evil” in their world is the importance of being prepared to fight it. In fact much of the series is about the young people getting prepared for something big that is about to happen. In addition to packing food, flash lights and walkie talkies, the kids also prepare for what lies ahead by making sure each person in the group knows that they belong and are loved.
I have been thinking a lot about the show “Stranger Things” this week as we find ourselves once again in the season of Advent. Advent is the short (4 week) season of preparing ourselves for the birth of Jesus. Advent is a reminder that God comes to us in all sorts of ways, even in the form of a child. Advent essentially asks us to prepare to accept that God loves us unconditionally with no strings attached. In a culture like ours that is quick to judge us for our performance or the power we yield or even the cars we drive, it is quite extraordinary that God says to us, I only want you to love and nothing more.
In my 14 years of celebrating Advent at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School, I have come to see this community as having an endless supply of both opportunity and gifts to be given. It’s a place where young people receive a world class education, a place where kids can travel the world with their friends and teachers and a place where colleges clamor for our kids to attend. In addition to all of these amazing things, however, we are also a place where we really know who our young people are.
So this Advent I am reminding myself that I am loved not because of what I produce but because of what God sees in me, all of me. This is the message by the way that I shared with the Upper School this week in Chapel. That the only preparation needed in Advent by them is to simply accept the love that God has for them. We ask a lot of our students and they in turn work hard to meet those demands and challenges. I am grateful though that as a community we also get to say to them they are loved and known even in the midst of their busy schedules and hectic lives. Doing so is both a gift and a sign of the power of this community to shape and embrace our young people for now and for later.