Advent for me has been both a countup and a countdown to Christmas.
My two Advent calendars are a colorful accumulation of prayers and ponderings. On one I started out with 26 blank trees and prayed for someone each day with doodles and color. The other calendar began with a blank piece of purple cardboard. On circular stickers are words and sentences captured from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas. Both calendars started off with nothing on them and grew. They are evidence of daily time sitting in a chair and staying focused—if only for a few minutes.
The dry, brown paperwhite narcissus bulbs planted at the beginning of Advent npw have tall green shoots. One bowl even has blossoms. Watching their growth each day was like having a living Advent calendar in my house.
Both of these Advent practices began with almost nothing and day by day revealed new growth. I was waiting for Christmas, but it felt like I was not waiting in vain.
The candles on the Advent wreath were beautiful on Advent One. They get smaller and more distorted each day, ticking off the days and hours until Christmas. Wax drips down and clumps on the table. The greens around the candles were so dry, they were a fire hazard; I threw them away. In spite of their demise, the dried–up greenery and the disappearing candles herald the imminence of Jesus’ birth.
The countup/countdown combo feels like just another Advent paradox to add to a growing collection: light/darkness, already/not yet, faith/fear, countup/countdown…. During Advent we pay attention to the paradoxes and sometimes act as if they are just an Advent thing that goes away with Christmas. But living with paradox is a constant part of daily life.
Life, for me, is both a countup and a countdown. These words do not fit nicely on a sequential or chronological timeline. Neither is necessarily a “better” experience than the other. Sometimes things are built up, sometimes torn down. Often countups and countdowns walk hand and hand. Both my countup and countdown Advent experiences were beacons to point the way to Christmas.