I’ll never forget the look on the woman’s face. It was a cross between Oscar the Grouch and a lemon that had been forgotten in the back of the fruit bin.
“I didn’t like your sermon today!” she snapped.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you preached on repentance, and this is Christmas,” she growled. “Christmas is about joy!”
“But it isn’t Christmas,” I replied, as patiently as I could. “It’s Advent.”
The woman looked at me as if I needed to take up selling appliances instead of preaching, and stormed off in a huff.
Our culture is anxious to celebrate Christmas early. Before we can even haul the jack-o-lanterns off our porches, the TV is blaring holiday commercials and the store aisles are glittering with tinsel. A number of houses in my neighborhood were aglow with Christmas lights a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.
Advent is waiting time – and we don’t like to wait. We hate to wait. Why sit still with God when we can get instant thrills at a holiday party or Cyber Monday sale?
This is why I believe Advent isn’t as popular as Christmas: it’s a reminder that there is work involved to arrive at the joy for which we so desperately long. Advent tells us that there is no insight without reflection; no renewal without repentance; no relationship without sacrifice. These four weeks before December 25 invite us to pray, serve, and slow down while everyone else is moving at warp-speed. That doesn’t sound very Christmas-y, does it?
It isn’t. It’s not supposed to be. Remember: Christmas did not instantly materialize with heavenly glory and angel song. It came after centuries of bondage and banishment, emerging from the groans of a people who longed for the arrival of Messiah. Prophecies of a Suffering Servant and a lowly King on a donkey lay dormant for ages and then. . .
An angelic birth announcement.
A Babe in a manger.
Shepherds rushing to Bethlehem.
This Advent, let us experience the long, slow, sometimes uncomfortable process that leads to the Child. If we go down the fast-track cultural route, we will miss Christmas altogether, even as we’re surrounded by family and festivity.