I actually like Advent. Mostly. America thankfully hasn’t discovered a lot of the dire British Christmas pop songs, and even more crucially doesn’t start playing them in August. Oh, it has its own crop of irritating songs, like the terrible earworm Feliz Navidad and the dubious It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (what on earth is that line about “scary ghost stories” doing in a Christmas song??), but nothing to match the horror of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day or the dreadful Jive Bunny Christmas single. Not quite.
I like putting up a Christmas tree and decorating it. (Artificial tree for preference; the one time growing up that we had a real tree it shed needles all over the carpet, was mostly dead before Christmas Eve and generally seemed like a complete waste of time and money). I like singing Christmas carols. I’ve even reconciled with some of the weirdly Mediaeval ones like The Holly and the Ivy. I like my annual venture through the Christmas Story, focusing on a new aspect each year. I even like a lot of the traditions and trappings and stuff that surround it.
In addition, I work on a construction site and not in a store or somewhere, so I don’t have to deal directly with the brigades of stressed and manic shoppers very much. Thank you, God!
The day after Thanksgiving traditionally begins the US Christmas shopping rush. “Black Friday” is the worst possible day of the year to go anywhere even close to a store, and once again, this year I’ve managed to avoid doing so with alacrity. I actually mostly enjoy shopping for Christmas gifts, but that doesn’t mean I want to have to resort to nuclear weapons to pick up a present or two.
Advent for me is a time of anticipation and looking forward. I’m remembering the True Story of Christmas and wondering which aspect of it will be brought into focus this year. I’m looking at toys that I might get for my kids, which is always a fun thing as it gives me a valid excuse to be poring over the LEGO sets in a store. I’m looking forward to some really good Christmas food, trying to remember to get cards in the post on time (always debatable – just ask my longsuffering family), looking forward.
Ecclesiastically speaking, the season of Advent has traditionally been used as a season to remember the preparations for the First Advent and to anticipate and prepare for the Second.
Given what I said a while back about one of the main points of eschatology being to de-absolutise our own concerns (in the face of the End of the World, what does it matter who wins the election?), it seems an especially profitable thing to focus on in the run-up to what is for many the most stressful and panic-inducing time of the year.
What better way to throw the shopping mayhem and traffic nightmares and culinary disasters into sharp relief than to remind ourselves that Jesus is coming back soon?
Depending on your eschatological perspective, that may mean either a great persecution and trouble is coming – I mean real persecution, not people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” – and we will have to exhibit the “patient endurance” that the Scripture says is called for, or else we will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air before all the great trouble starts. Either way, it kind of makes all our Christmas stress look… small. Irrelevant. Not worth the worry and effort we expend on it.
Yes, it’s nice to be able to get our kids and relatives what’s on their wishlists. But a wishlist is a wish list, not a demand list. If we’re paying some kind of a ransom for the delivery of an argument- and disappointment-free holiday, we may be doing it wrong. Yes, it’s nice to get all the details right and to have our Christmas be the fairytale we dream about. Even snow on the ground in London or Texas.
But it doesn’t ultimately matter. Advent looks forward to a Second Coming as well as back to the First, and being aware of this might serve as a buffer against some of the stress of the holiday.
I hope I can remember this the next time I’m stuck in traffic on the way home from work because some crazed shopper ran off the road.