Celebrating Christmas without observing Advent is like taking a victory lap before the race starts.
At least, that’s how I’ve felt about it for many years.
Most of the rest of the world – both secular and Christian – begs to differ. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the whole country seems to flip a switch that turns on the Christmas twinkle and bustle with Advent getting barely a nod from those chocolate-laced calendars which start on December 1st whether that’s the actual beginning of the season or not. Maybe we feel we’ve done enough Advent-ing when we hold off on dropping the Baby Jesus into the nativity scene until the morning of. Our Christmas expectations have grown so extravagant that we spend a liturgical season of solemnity with decorating, shopping, wrapping, baking, and singing when we could be mourning a broken world. Okay, not a great selling point, but it is why Jesus showed up.
I’ve been a lot more concerned with the War on Advent than the War on Christmas (which by the way was decisively won by retailers decades ago – you might be glad to know Christmas won). I find a certain perverse glee in reminding people Christmas Day wasn’t a federally recognized holiday until 1870, and that in the 17th century Christians campaigned to keep Christmas celebrations illegal in several of the original colonies and in England.
For all their faults, Puritans really understood the importance of observing a Bleak Midwinter.
And yet ironically … I find being a prophet of doom about Advent does little to advance the pro-Advent agenda. So instead, I have come to realize – reluctantly at first and more gratefully these days – that in the midst of all that inappropriately-timed caroling (hey, I’m working on it!), people are indeed facing the brokenness in our communities and our world. They’re just not putting as somber a face on it as my narrow vision demands.
Charities of all kinds depend on the generosity that wells forth in the Advent/Christmas season for their very survival. In places of employment, colleagues take collections and pool resources to make Christmas day special for the less fortunate (whose wish lists often include household supplies and other things many of us can take for granted). The Marines deploy their Toys for Tots campaign to bring joy to children, and civilians make extra efforts to remember those deployed around the world under unthinkable conditions.
Are these kindnesses a bit of Advent-like awareness? Yes. Do they address the larger injustices that prophets like Amos and Isaiah – perennial Advent favorites – warn us about? Not as much as they could.
But it’s all a start. Despite my affection for a neatly structured liturgical calendar, Advent and Christmas and all those other seasons are not how life plays out in the real world. In the real world, every day – every hour – is a jumble of hope, joy, expectation, repentance, mercy and all the other things that make up existence. Advent preparation isn’t just for Christmas. And Christmas celebration isn’t just for December 25th.
That saying about having Christmas in our hearts all year around? It’s also true for the lessons of Advent, Easter, Pentecost, and every other season and holiday of our faith.
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.