Ours is a society that detests waiting! Entire industries, from fast foods and instant messaging to overnight package delivery and on-demand entertainment are fueled by our insatiable appetite for instant gratification. So perhaps it is not surprising that the ancient practice of observing an Advent season has largely disappeared from our culture — even in many churches. Because Advent is all about waiting!
Now some may be inclined to argue the point – after all, our society seems to start anticipating Christmas at ever-earlier dates. Retail establishments today trot out their Christmas decorations before the Halloween paraphernalia is packed away and the airwaves are filled with ‘holiday carols’ while the leftover Thanksgiving turkey is still being served. For those already wearied by the stress of Christmas shopping and holiday preparations even before the traditional four weeks of Advent begin, it may seem like a laughable idea that our preparations for Christmas are in any way lacking! “Let’s have less, please!” is a more typical sentiment!
Our society is obsessed with Christmas (or should we say ‘Xmas’?) as an annual obligation to catch what we call “the Christmas spirit.” According to the popular myth expressed in ‘holiday classics’ as diverse as Dicken’s Christmas Carol and The Grinch who Stole Christmas, there is something ‘magical’ about the season which brings out the best in the stony hearts of both grumpy humans and large lumpy green creatures. But for many, the contrast between personal realities vs. the unrealistic expectations of the season feeds a deep inner sadness that belies all the forced gaiety. Efforts to “catch the spirit” often end in feelings of emptiness and despair — if you can’t find happiness in your heart at Christmas, what hope is there then for you?
And that’s why we need Advent more than ever — it shifts our attention from the frenzied preparations which we hope will produce a few hours of joy for ourselves and our loved ones, and redirects our gaze to the timeless truth of a loving God who has been patiently preparing a better future for us. The Christian hope for “peace on earth, good will to men” isn’t some illusion that we try to manufacture annually to temporarily distract us from the grim realities of life, but rather an iron-clad promise of salvation that the Lord of the Universe has already accomplished by His supreme sacrifice. Advent is the time of year when we remind ourselves that the victory has already been won and eternal joy awaits us – we only need to trust and wait for it!
The spirit of Advent is perfectly captured in the simple Taizé chant , Wait for the Lord :
Wait for the Lord, whose day is near / Wait for the Lord: be strong, take heart!
Waiting trustingly and attentively is the essence of advent – a confidence that gives us courage to live boldly in the here-and-now as we wait for God’s loving plans for us to unfold – as they surely will in His due time.
Our observance of Christmas is a human invention which singles out a day of the year for special celebration. Advent on the other hand, is a discipline of anticipation with roots in the beginning of time when God promised redemption of His Creation from the evil which had corrupted it. All of the Old Testament is a pointing forward to God’s deliverance through the Messiah (Christ) who would be born from His chosen people. Through thousands of years the faithful waited as they persisted through trials and disappointments. But God is faithful, and at the right time the promised Savior, God’s own Son, was born into the human condition to be the perfect sacrificial lamb who would atone for the sins of mankind. Though God’s heavenly Kingdom was now securely planted on earth, the waiting was not yet over: though Jesus broke Satan’s power over mankind by His death on the cross and triumphant resurrection, the new dawn of God’s perfected creation is deferred until Christ returns again. And so we still wait patiently through the pre-dawn shadows of the present uncertain times, but always with the sure hope of God’s glorious dawn when Christ will return in majesty to set all things right.
“my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning …. For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.” (Psalm 130:6-7)