Why is Advent so easy to ignore, when it is such a delight to explore?
This year we have the longest Advent possible – a full four weeks, as Christmas arrives seven days after the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Every Scripture reading, every prayer available in the Advent liturgy, we will use. The candles of our Advent wreath will burn down to nubs. Great, you might say. More time! But ask your kids: is more time until Christmas really a GOOD thing? It simply means longer to wait, and that can be hard on a kid!
Thus is Advent a four-week exploration of the real suspense in our lives. There is so much to do, and we do so much with every day our lives. But none of what we do, accomplishes what we crave, what we need, what will last – what will, as the saying goes, really make a difference. For that we need someone else.
The real work of Advent is not making Christmas happen, but directing our attention to what is going to happen. Christ is coming; He will bring peace, and He will send packing the unjust, the unrighteous, and the uninterested.
Wake up! is the first thing that is required of us; wake up from our slumber both literal and metaphorical. While hardly a great accomplishment, it is something required daily of everyone.
The next thing we must do is repent, says John the Baptist: change. We need to discard every aspect of our lives that obstructs Christ’s coming, those aspects often called sin. How to do that? What should be on our lists? It turns out, He who comes will bring an answer for that, too.
All about us, we are bombarded by reminders and even assertions of what we need to have a wonderful Christmas, the kind of Christmas we used to know, the kind of Christmas we want our children to enjoy, the kind of Christmas that we will always remember. Because of this fixation, everybody has lists: things to do, things to buy, things to arrange, things to achieve, list upon list. The roads are jammed with people trying to get things that are on their lists.
But isn’t it funny that the one element we need to have any Christmas at all cannot be obtained by anything we do, get, or arrange? The Christ Who comes, comes when He pleases, because He pleases. And until He come, we have no Christmas, no lasting joy.
Waiting longer can be a burden for one who is convinced of the goodness of what he awaits. Waiting longer can be a blessing for one who uncertain of the coming, or the goodness: waiting to take our hardest final exam, for example, or for that worrisome diagnosis. We welcome more time when we think we have more work to do. We groan when more time, a longer wait, comes between us and what we need.
Advent is a microcosm of our own lives, our relationship with God, and our hope for goodness and glory. More time is a blessing when we are focused on what we can do, what we need to do. More time is a burden when it comes between us and what we know only God can do. Which is it for you? A quick examination of our attitude toward Advent can reveal much about our relationship with the Redeemer.
O come, O come: it is the song of Advent we all know so well. If we listen, we will hear also the song of our lives.