Biola University’s The Advent Project forgoes chocolate for something much sweeter
The Advent Project – about this same week each year, I start to love counting down to Christmas. Not in a hurry up, we’ve only got so many days to decorate trees, address cards, bake cookies, wrap gifts and clean guest bathrooms kind of way. But in a fun, expectant way.
I’ve felt this ever since I was a little kid when my grandmother bought my siblings and me a cardboard Advent calendar. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, we rotated who got to pop out the cut-out date and reveal a small toy or a piece of chocolate. Every third day, it was my turn. And it was the very first thing I did each morning—I’d skip the bathroom, pass up the toothbrush and beeline it to that Advent calendar.
My grandmother didn’t buy us the calendar as a means to dole out cheap ornaments and a few pieces of candy. Her intention was deeper than that. She wanted to teach us how to look toward the celebration of Christ’s birth—and not just new toys—with anticipation.
Thirty years later, stale milk chocolate doesn’t quite do it for me anymore, but I still value that lesson of joyfully hoping and waiting. And I’ve found a more contemplative way to usher in this season of Advent, a word that in itself means the anticipated arrival of something or someone.
In lieu of that cardboard calendar, I pull up The Advent Project. It’s a digital Advent calendar created by Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts.
Every year since 2013, the university has released The Advent Project, a thoughtful composition of art, poetry, Biblical scripture, music and prayer. The project pays homage to those traditional chocolate calendars by revealing a new delicacy of art and scripture every day for 37 days.
Each daily installment includes a devotional written by a Biola faculty member reflecting on a particular passage from the Bible. Each passage is also accompanied by a poem, a song and a painting, sculpture, drawing or video. The poetry, music and visual artworks range from classics to contemporary creations from artists around the world.
For example, the Dec. 9 post includes an acrylic painting of John the Baptist by Lyuba Yatskiv, a 42-year-old Ukrainian artist; music by contemporary Irish/American band The Gloaming; and poetry by Leonard Norman Cohen (1934–2016), a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet, and novelist.
And here’s what I really love. Each installment includes an “about” tab that not only provides a short bio on the artist, but details the story behind that day’s featured artwork, poem and song.
A special season
Mike Ahn, assistant dean of Chapels and Worship at Biola, described the celebration of Advent is special. It as something deeper and more meaningful than the commercialized, hungry-for-more mindset that Christmas can so easily become.
“Advent is meant to be something completely different,” he adds. “These weeks are meant to develop a sense of wonder and awe, so that we can take in the incarnation of God. And more than that, Advent is about developing a deep longing for when Jesus is to return again.”
Barry Corey, president of Biola, speaks to how art and creativity does well to tell the Christmas story.
“Advent looks patiently to the future return of Christ to bring all wrongs to right, once and for all. Advent accepts the tension of the already and the not yet. Furthermore, it welcomes waiting. It is merriment and melancholy together. The beauty is sublime that, like the best art, it simultaneously comforts and rocks us to the core,” he says. “It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the mystery and magnitude of Advent lends itself so well to artistic exploration. Like Advent, the arts also accept tension and welcome waiting. The incarnation itself lends dignity to artistic and cultural pursuits.”
Join me in approaching Christmas differently this year. The Advent Project is all online and free. (Subscribe here.)
And if chocolate helps sweeten your celebration this season, one a day certainly can’t hurt.