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December 10, 2017: Advent vs. Exams, A Seminarian's Struggle

by Martin Geiger, seminarian

I first discovered the Episcopal Church as a student at Cornell University. I knew very little about it before I began attending, other than having a vague impression of the Church of England from reading a lot of Victorian novels. (Yes, I was an English major.) One of the most striking differences between my Baptist upbringing and the Episcopal Church was the liturgical calendar—the intricate dance of seasons that guides us through the year. I quickly came to value the sense of rhythm it gave me, and the shape it gave to the church’s worship. Because I joined the church during college, I have always connected the liturgical calendar very closely with the academic calendar. Both have their seasons, their feasts and fasts.

The two calendars don’t mesh very well in Advent. Each December in college, I was struggling to write papers, get all my work finished, and make it home for Christmas. The themes of waiting and preparation that Advent highlights seemed impossible. How was I supposed to prepare for Jesus’s coming when an exam was imminent? I continued to deal with this problem when I worked as a teaching assistant, and when I worked in youth ministry. Now that I’m in seminary, a student once more, I’m yet again facing the challenge of how to give Advent its necessary attention in the midst of the end of another packed semester.

Despite the mismatch between the two calendars I live with, I’ve come to value Advent’s demand for priority and attention. Like John the Baptist, this season arrives with force, telling us “Keep awake!” and “Prepare the way!” I’m still learning how to respond to those commands, but Advent reminds me to look around for what God is up to in my life. If I had more time, I’d love to spend it with music, listening to and singing Handel’s Messiah. But I’ve come to learn that God does not wait for me to be perfectly still and calm in order to show up. God shows up even in the frantic rush to finish a paper, or the stress of an exam, calling me back to the peace and new life he offers. 

This Advent, my prayer is that we all see God at work around us, even in the face of the stress and challenges of the season. As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’s birth, whatever calendars we’re following, may we take a moment to prepare our hearts to worship him even more fully.

Last Published: December 13, 2017 11:49 AM
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