Advent is a season of waiting. And we live in a time when we’re not really used to waiting, so it can be very hard for us.
I don’t know if your childhood experience was like mine, but when I was a kid, seeing all the presents under the tree, weeks before Christmas, left me feeling very impatient. Some years, my mother would let me open one gift sometime in the week before Christmas. I don’t know whether that was to get me to shut up or if there was some more noble purpose behind it. Of course, it worked for a while, but not really for long.
As adults in this day and age, the older we get, the less we need or even want for Christmas; when we need or want something, if it’s within budget (hopefully!), we just go out and get it. Instant gratification.
Advent flies in the face of instant gratification. It is properly a season of penitence, of self-examination, as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. One friend of mine suggested that this can even dovetail with our culture’s desire to celebrate Christmas long before the actual feast (by singing carols, etc.) by inviting people to give up the busyness and crazy scheduling that goes with December in favour of celebrating the joy that the season brings. I like the idea, but too often we end up adding “joy” to our calendar, filling it up even more.
Try an experiment: hold you breath as long as you can. When you finally exhale and draw in more air, there is a certain relief, and maybe even exhilaration, that you can breathe again, right? Advent is a bit like holding your breath. When we finally ‘exhale’ at the celebration of the Nativity, there is a real sense of delight – a sense that, I think, is muted when we begin too soon.
Of course, the world’s celebration of the season is not really the church’s celebration. We’re not in it for the dollars and cents (think advertisements, Black Friday and Cyber Monday). But we do have a ‘bottom line’, of a sort, don’t we? We want Jesus to be born in the hearts of people. There are aspects of the world’s celebration that plays into our hands; after all, at what other time of the year do malls pipe good theology through their music systems?
Let Advent be a spiritual discipline for you, as it was intended to be. Wait. Hold your breath. See if it deepens your celebration even more.
All earth is waiting to see the Promised One,
And open furrows await the seed of God.
All the world, bound and struggling, seeks true liberty;
It cries out for justice and searches for the truth.
-Alberto Taulé, tr. Gertrude C. Suppe