The season of Advent has begun. In many Christian households, it is a season devoted largely to wishing that it was over. We want the joy of Christmas, not the frustration of waiting or the hassle of preparation. Who likes waiting in our age of instant gratification? So no sooner has Advent begun, than we begin counting the days to that wondrous celebration, marking them with candles, or prayers, or, if we’re lucky, by chocolates hidden behind little doors on Advent calendars.
In my family this year, in addition to using the typical kinds of Advent calendars, we will also have the novel experience of counting down the days using triops, little prehistoric crustaceans also known as dinosaur shrimp. We didn’t buy them with the intention of using them as an Advent calendar of course. My son purchased a batch of the dehydrated spores from which these sea creatures are born on Thanksgiving weekend, simply because he thought raising them would be fun. “Ooo what a neat idea” we both thought; “throw some ancient spores in a little water and a few days later, ‘ta da!’ we will be the proud owners of the descendants of the three-eyed ancient alien-looking creatures which once stalked the bottom of the primordial ooze.”
Boy were we naïve! When we opened the box, we discovered that it takes many days—about 25—to raise full-grown triops. We also discovered that you don’t just throw some spores in water and watch them grow. These ancient, simple creatures are surprisingly tricky to raise. They come with detailed instructions: “On Day 1 do this, on Day 2 do this…” Water temperature matters. Light exposure matters. Diet and cleanliness matter. This makes triops a pain to raise, but perfect for a countdown calendar.
I know already that while my son is counting down the days until he will be the proud papa of a tank full of triops, part of me will be counting down the days until I don’t have to serve the every need of these high maintenance shell fish. But in order to avoid nurturing resentment and to deepen my spiritual life, I am going to try to focus the rest of me on using the triops as an Advent calendar instead. Day 1- give thanks for God’s living water. Day 2, embrace God’s life-giving light. Day 3, feed your soul with the Word of God…. You get the idea. What will I learn, what could we all learn if we used this season of waiting not to focus on how few days we have to shop, or how soon the celebration will be here, but on how much we could grow? This is what the season of Advent was created for originally after all. It was a season in which Christians were given time to prepare themselves spiritually to receive Jesus, God Incarnate, into their hearts, with the knowledge that once they did, they would feel called to follow him.
It takes work to be ready to receive the real Jesus, not just a Santa Claus-inspired God. Jesus was a radical in his call for justice and inclusivity, obedience and selflessness. We have to let go of a whole bunch of habits that we are comfortable with, but the Lord is not, if we are to follow him faithfully. We have to be willing to change our definitions of success and power, as well as our political and financial priorities. We have to nurture the love in our hearts with a great deal of intention and care or it will die. Like the triops, we need the right kind of food and the right kind of environment to grow and become fully formed disciples. Isn’t it a blessing therefore, that we have this time, before we are called to welcome the baby in our arms, to tend to our faith and let it mature? It feels that way to me.
What are you doing to grow God’s love in your heart this Advent season? “Lord teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” (Ps. 90:12)