The War on Advent
It’s that time of year again. Lights are strung on houses, carolers are singing in the streets, peppermint mochas replace pumpkin spice, snowmen stand guard in front lawns, and the war on Christmas wages on. Sacrilegious statues are raised in front of courthouses, Starbucks probably still offends everyone with their still not Christmas-y enough cups, and people have the gall to say, “Happy Holidays!” So Christmas fights back by invading neighboring territories such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, and even summer. On the front lines, retailers like Hobby Lobby put up Christmas merchandise in the last days of the summer while you get ready to send your kids back to school. Black Friday sales extend into Thanksgiving Day to capitalize on the “spirit of giving,” the trademark of a true Christmas veteran. Before long, kids will wander the streets on Halloween (or Reformation Day, if you prefer) in Santa costumes. But while your attention is drawn to World War Christmas, a few quiet voices mourn the impending loss in the war on Advent.
Before the world declared war on Christmas, Christmas took up arms against Advent. Beginning four Sundays before Christmas (Nov. 27 this year), Advent is the first season of the Christian calendar and is a time of anticipation. During the season of Advent, Christians are called to build the expectation of the coming of the Messiah as they await the celebration of Jesus’ birth, which marks the beginning of the season of Christmas. So, to be clear, Advent is the four weeks before Christmas, and Christmas begins on December 25 and lasts for two weeks—at least in theory.
In practice, however, Christmas has been invading Advent’s territory on the calendar for quite some time. Christmas hymns play on the radio and are sung in churches during Advent, while traditional Advent hymns often go unsung or get lost in the myriad of Christmas hymns (yes, Advent hymns exist, and yes, there’s more than just "O Come, Emmanuel"). People wish one another “Merry Christmas” before Christmas and then don’t say it during the actual season of Christmas. And it seems that the only expectations happening during the season of Advent are for gifts and vacation rather than the Advent-prescribed longings for hope, peace, joy, and love fulfilled in the Messiah to come. Sure, Advent calendars are making a slight comeback, but that’s just about the only trace of Advent left in culture, and mostly because of our love for gifts and chocolate.
But why does any of this matter? After all, it is not likely your congregation celebrates Advent or lights candles on an Advent wreath. Here’s what you’re missing: Advent is a reminder that we still wait for the Messiah. As a people who live in the “now and not yet” of the kingdom of God, we await the return of Christ. We await the arrival of God’s peace in a war-torn, dichotomized world. We await the joy of the Lord as a people who try and fail to find joy in all the wrong places and people. We are a people of hope that light will one day break into the darkness that threatens to overcome us. We are a people of Advent, and we need to celebrate our longing for God.
So give Advent a chance, and don’t let the Christmas cat out of the bag too soon. Live in the space of Advent that fosters the development of hope, peace, joy, and love. Live in the tension of expectation and anticipation of the coming of Christ, and allow Advent to remind you that we are a people who eagerly await the return of Christ. For “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself” (Phil 3:20-21 NRSV).