Advent, which means “coming,” is a time of patient waiting and watching. These are not things at which we are very good. We do not like to wait, so we put it on credit. We do not like to wait until tomorrow (or on December 25) to do what we can do today. We have no sense of the slow building of momentum and expectation that the Church has given us with the season of Advent. We will not wait: we turn up the volume to 11 on the carols as soon as Thanksgiving is over (if we can wait even that long). I know that many people do not see the point of Advent, or its putting-off of Christmas until the actual Mass of Christ and its Twelve Days. We have trouble doing things differently than the world around us does them. We all have our Christmas parties in December, and as soon as December 26 comes, we are more than ready to be done with anything green and red. We get ourselves “into the Christmas spirit” as soon as the advertisements and stores instruct us to do so.
But there are some things we cannot force. We cannot force ourselves to be happy and “Christmasy” if we find ourselves in any of the myriad disasters or difficulties living in a world of sin can bring about. Death and sickness, all the consequences of sin in our lives and the lives of others, do not lend themselves to the superficial “joy” plastered over every inch of our consumer and commercial culture. Unmet expectations are the order of the day, and unless we realize that it will always be that way in a world of sin, we will continue to be disappointed. Advent gives us hope—actual, real-live hope—in the midst of this world the way that it is, rather than the way we wish it were. Advent gives us hope when we celebrate the first Christmas after a death in the family. Advent gives us hope when we celebrate the first Christmas after a divorce. Advent gives us hope when nothing goes according to plan, and our facade of control—especially over our own lives—is torn from its hastily constructed frame. Advent gives us this hope because it gives us the One for whom it is named: the Coming One. It gives us, as every season of the Church Year does, Jesus Himself. Without Advent, Christmas is reduced to a single day of feasting and family and some generic “spirit of giving.” It is Advent that makes sure we know and expect the Christ in the Christ-mass.
Christians keep observing Advent, even if the world has absolutely no conception of waiting or watching or hoping or longing. Christians keep observing Advent because we know that the Christ whose birth we will celebrate is the same Christ who will come again, no longer humble and hidden, but glorious and majestic. The same angels who proclaimed His birth will proclaim Him as Judge of the living and the dead. Advent is the season that teaches us to wait in confident hope for that second coming, even as we celebrate His first coming to accomplish our salvation by suffering and death.
So don’t hurry through this season. Stand a moment with the crowds as your King enters Jerusalem on a donkey. Stay a while in the wilderness with John. Hear the angel Gabriel speak to a Virgin about the One who would save His people from their sins. And learn from all of these what it means to wait and watch and live in this world: a world which, because it does not know Advent, does not know Christmas. This is as C.S. Lewis described Narnia before the coming of the King: “always Winter, and never Christmas.”
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”