Forward Today: Seasons of expectation

Note: As we continue to pray for healing for the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, this weekly message will feature guest writers from the Forward Movement staff and board of directors. Today’s message comes from Margaret Ellsworth, Forward Movement’s Marketing Coordinator.

The AdventWord of the day is “mountains.” Here’s the photo I shared today.

As we enter December tomorrow, I’m acutely aware that I am living in two calendars at once. On the cultural calendar, we are well into the “Christmas season.” Twinkling lights and red coffee cups, just to name two signs of the season, have been around for a few weeks already. But in the church’s calendar, we are just beginning our season of Advent, our liturgical new year.

In his book Inwardly Digest, Derek Olsen points out how the church calendar helps shape us in the Christian affections: “emotional habits, patterns of feeling that we choose and cultivate.” Each season of the year highlights one of the affections that we might practice their patterns of feeling. “We focus on particular affections as we move through particular seasons,” Olsen writes, “in order that these patterns may become features of our long-term way of being in the presence of God.”

The affection of Advent, according to Olsen, is “watchful expectation.” Expectation is a key emotional habit of the Cultural Christmas season too – in a different way. The expectation of “holiday magic” in our decorations and activities. The expectation of family togetherness, or end-of-year achievement at work. And of course, the expectation to give or receive the perfect gift. 

These expectations can often feel, as Anne Lamott puts it, as “resentments waiting to happen.” Add “watchful” to expectation, though, and the focus shifts. It’s not as much about what we do (or fail to do); rather, it’s about noticing what God is doing, and what God will do.

I’m grateful in this season for AdventWord, which is helping me watch for Christ this week. AdventWord takes words from their familiar context, in the readings for the Sundays of Advent, and asks where YOU see these words in your world. I love seeing how people all over social media are interpreting the words. And when I look for my own photo of the day, I’m watchful. I’m noticing where God is throughout my day. 

AdventWord is only one of the ways we can lean into this season of watchful expectation. It’s a great time to begin (or begin again) in praying the Daily Office, as our liturgical calendar turns over. Or join our newest Forward Day by Day author tomorrow as the new month’s meditations begin. 

We can’t avoid the cultural Christmas season entirely, and truth be told, I wouldn’t want to – it’s a wonderful time of year. But I hope this year I can lay down the expectations it presents, and watch instead for what God is doing in the world.

Yours faithfully,

Margaret Ellsworth
Marketing Coordinator

More from our ministry:

Find gifts for the disciples and evangelists in your life with our Holiday Gift Guide

Look for God’s work in creation: The Creation Care Bible Challenge

From Grow Christians: Expanding Our View of Gratitude

New from ChurchNext: Introducing the Quaker Tradition