Waiting for Advent


This morning I got in my car to run 8 hours of errands for my church.  My IPod happened to be in my wife’s car so I went looking for a radio station.  The first one I found was a generic pop station that plays current hits.

To my absolute surprise, they were playing Christmas music.  So I went looking for another station.  Later in the day I found myself at a Starbucks, killing time between errands and to my surprise they were playing Christmas music too.

It is November 10th, 17 whole days before Thanksgiving and a month and 16 days before Christmas.

And it isn’t just the music.  The Holiday displays are out and not only in big box stores but in grocery stores as well.  More than that, we are starting the Christmas Culture War earlier than ever and this year the battle happens to be over coffee cups.  More than that, I found that Netflix has debuted all their Christmas content all ready.

There was a day not long ago when I wrote a rather cheesy editorial for my high school paper about how Christmas is now a month long and begins the day after Thanksgiving.  My classmates ridiculed me, saying their family didn’t start Christmas until a couple weeks into December.  They further thought it was weird that anybody would think to celebrate it earlier than that.  Wishful thinking though that was they were wrong then and are super wrong now.

I know enough to know what Starbucks, the grocery stores and that secular radio station are thinking.  They can make more money if they begin the “Christmas spirit” early.  More people will flock to their station and they will capitalize on a niche crowd, making more ad revenue.

After all, American Christmas is all about money.

And American Christmas is far removed from traditional Christian Christmas.

Traditional Christmas was precluded by four weeks of despondency, a time called “Advent.”  Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter.  It is a time of stepping back from the world and taking a good hard look at it, reminding ourselves again that this is still a dying world that desperately awaits the life that comes with Jesus’ second coming.

Advent isn’t really the season of shepherds and wise men.  They are for the 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany.  Instead Advent is the season of the Old Testament prophets whose poetry and prose describe a broken world desperately awaiting the messiah.

In Advent we join Jeremiah on the mountaintop over a ransacked Jerusalem, crying our chapters of lament.  This is why this season is a time for sad and desperate songs like, “Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

We sing these songs during the four darkest weeks of the year as we cry and fast and pray and contemplate.

Then, on the darkest day of the year (or what turned out being 4 days after it) we suddenly gather together in the Mass, bringing our observations of brokenness into the sanctuary with us.  And then Christ comes!  After four weeks of mourning and fasting, joy fills the world because though the darkness seemed to win, light now streams forth from a manger!  And light will stream forth again in the eastern sky when Jesus returns.

We use Advent to wait for Christmas.  However, lately it feels like I am using Christmas to wait for Advent.  After all, our broken world thinks it needs more Christmas spirit, more snow filled holidays and more songs about silent nights, frosty snowmen and red nosed reindeer.  What we actually need is prayer, fasting, crying and lamenting.  We need more embraces of our dark and broken world and more longing for a savior who is coming.

For this reason I close with one of the most unsung Advent songs, written by my favorite, Charles Wesley.  Enjoy!

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him,
pierced, and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears,
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
gaze we on those glorious scars!

Now redemption, long expected,
see in solemn pomp appear;
all his saints, by man rejected,
now shall meet him in the air:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
See the day of God appear!

Yea, amen! let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory;
claim the kingdom for thine own:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.