I have felt a little unmoored from Advent this year. I treasure the church’s build-up to Christmas, the restraint and anticipation, the closest experience I have to the unbearable and delicious waiting for Christmas I had as a child. I like the weeks marked by candle flame: 1, 2, pink, 4. Blue or purple doesn’t matter to me, although some blues convey longing more effectively than purple ever can.
This year is different. We haven’t been in the same parish every Sunday and we switched hemispheres. In South Africa, the days are growing longer, the sun’s heat more intense. Here, in the north of Scotland (57.90 degrees latitude), our days are dimming to 6 hours and 29 minutes of sun-up on December 21. We watch the sun come up over the hills, trace a small arch, and descend. Houses on the other side of the loch from us don’t get direct sunshine for months. I’m used to the Northern Hemisphere’s darkening days, and the way lighting candles to prepare for the coming of the Light of the World makes sense as a statement of faith, a protest against the dark. Flickering flames on a wreath of evergreen seem fitting when it’s cold and windy outside and trees have lost their leaves.
Of course, lighting candles in the Southern Hemisphere is appropriate as well. Night comes there too, it’s just later and warmer, and evergreens don’t stand out in the lush world where every bush and flower and tree is sprouting a new bud, blossom, or bloom, like the world is preparing for a party, plants competing to see who will show up in the most fabulous outfit.
(Purple jacaranda trees made a carpet of purple just in time for the beginning of Advent; yellow pompoms on the acacia trees; red bottle brush flowers; wreaths ready to be hung up in our hotel in Kenya.)
In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s like everything knows not to get too loud. We don’t want to wake the baby.
I’ve been researching Advent materials especially suited to the Southern Hemisphere’s longer, warmer days and the arrival of the first day of summer. I haven’t found much. If you know of anything, please share!
But here are a couple that intrigue me and maybe we’ll incorporate them into our family Advent practice next year.
Annette Buckley, in Australia, developed a Watery Advent Wreath, which was adapted by Ipswich Lutheran Church (also in Australia), that notes how important water is in parched places, how it can be a barrier to cross, how necessary it is to stop bushfires. As the lack of safe drinking water and drought continue to affect people where we live in South Africa, using water as a symbol for longing and life may be very powerful.
Rev. Bosco Peters, in New Zealand, wrote an Advent Collect that reflects springtime, daylight, and sun:
your prophets call us to look forward to the dawn of a new day;
may we who witness the promised springtime
prepare the way for the coming Sun of Justice, Jesus your Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever. Amen. (www.liturgy.co.nz)
As I think about Advent in heat and light, rather than cold and darkness, it strikes me that my familiar Northern Hemisphere symbols fit well with celebrating something gentle, mild, quiet. These are all important in our loud world and Jesus praised the meek. But I run the risk of focusing on not waking the baby, rather than remembering–and celebrating–that Jesus didn’t come to be hushed, controlled, or controllable. Maybe in unrelenting heat and bright summer sunshine I can remember that Jesus Christ is also like a refiner’s fire.
https://maree-clarkson.blogspot.com/2013/09/surrounded-by-karees.html Gardening in Africa