Perhaps it’s due to the oft-decried commercialization of Christmas, but it’s awful easy to just drift toward the big day itself, pushed and pulled by the currents of consumer culture until we wash up on the shore of December 26th, and haul down our trees and lights and head out to return that hideous orange sweater from Aunt Bertha. Perhaps a lame Advent makes for a flat Christmas.
For Christians, Advent is a time of waiting. For four(ish) weeks, we prepare for the feast of Christmas, and all of its comfort and joy, comfort and joy. While the frenetic shopping, preemptive work parties, and the endless din of commercial carols can obscure it, it’s also a time of wanting, a time to grow our wants, to let them loom large and to let them linger.
If we aren’t waiting, if we aren’t wanting, then Christmas passes us by.
Why do we have liturgical seasons? Perhaps it’s to let a particular facet of the Christian life get in our collective face. We need time to shift gears and to settle into the peculiar rhythms each season brings. Most importantly, though, we need time if we’re going to allow the season’s full burden of meaning to press upon us and leave a mark.
In Advent, we’re pressed to rest in a season of waiting. We are asked to define ourselves as people who wait. This isn’t easy, of course, particularly since waiting always sharpens our senses so that we suddenly become aware of all that’s not right in the world, in our family, in ourselves. In Advent, we are asked to define ourselves as people in want.
What do we want? We want a savior, and we want Him now. For every one of us, there are moments when we can’t dodge the fact of our fragility. Not only do we founder from time to time, but we’re just not able to right ourselves. More: not only are we not our own saviors, we can’t control the ETA of our savior. To look beyond ourselves for a savior means, inevitably, waiting.
All this to say: our waiting and our wanting are inseparable. They interpret each other, pull out the inner meaning from the other. Advent teaches us to prolong that waiting, to let it linger until we feel its sharp edge against our flesh, until our wanting reaches an intensity that can make us cry out from that deep and hidden place, come Lord Jesus.
Advent is a school for our hopes and desires, and like all schools, it only fills the holes we uncover. The gifts of Advent are offered to those who can honestly admit their dishonesties and acknowledge the wanting that continues to haunt. Our waiting this Advent has to and can become honest prayer, if we can only resist the urge to preempt the Giver’s gift by our frightened grabbings. Our Savior comes with gifts, if we can only rest in waiting, and linger in wanting.