Advent is a time for watchfulness and preparation. I find it to be among one of the most restful seasons, more so than the celebrations of Christmas, insofar as Advent is a meditative and reflective time. That it is also dark early and the nights are long also contributes to the sense of restfulness.
I’ve been reading a book by Walter Brueggemann called Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. Brueggemann argues that the practice of resting on the Sabbath is no mere formal, legalistic requirement, nor is it simply a chance to “recharge our batteries” so that we can go out and be productive again. He argues that the practice of keeping the Sabbath is a way to resist many temptations that can pull us far away from God every day. We live in a culture of consumerism, a culture of anxiety about whether we are good enough, a culture that tells us what we produce and how much we “make” defines us. We might already be familiar with the idea that the Sabbath day is instituted as a reminder of God’s resting on the seventh day, a day in which God proclaims that creation is good because God made it. We are enough because God made us, and made us good. When we rest on the Sabbath, we remember that we are good enough because of who we are (made in the divine image) and not just because of what we do (work, consumption, accomplishment).
Brueggemann spends most of his book connecting the practice of Sabbath to remembering the movement of the people of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt and the hardship of their work as brickmakers, to the freedom of Israel in the Promised Land. The Sabbath is also instituted as a day to remember God and especially to remember that God freed the people from slavery. Yet when we stay busy and continually produce and consume even on the day of rest, Brueggemann says that we forget that God came to free us from such enslavement.
The Sabbath frees in multiple ways: it frees us from anxiety, insofar as it encourages us to trust that even if we do not work this one day, God will always provide enough. It frees us from the idols of consumerism and prestige. Sabbath frees us from a way of restless living that destroys neighborliness and destroys the land. The Sabbath us frees us to remember that we are all equals on the Sabbath day. Even while some have more, make more, or do more on the other days of the week, resident and alien, human and animal, rich and poor are all alike in their rest on the Sabbath. Brueggemann writes,
“On the Sabbath: You do not have to do more. You do not have to sell more. You do not have to control more. You do not have to know more. You do not have to have your kids in ballet or soccer. You do not have to be younger or more beautiful. You do not have to score more.”
On the Sabbath, we remember that we are enough in God’s eyes. We remember that our neighbors are valued as much as we are, and need rest as much as we do. We set aside our restlessness and anxiety long enough to just be, rather than to do, and to remember God’s care for us.
To me, this relates closely to Advent, where our preparations need not be, should not be, frantically getting ready for a holiday of consuming and restless doing, but rather preparing for God who comes to BE with us. God comes to us in the baby, Jesus, and for a long time God is with us not as one who immediately undertakes a great ministry or sacrifice, though that will come later. God comes to be with us. Are we ready to be, simply to be, with God?