I don’t know a lot about Advent. The churches I grew up in never celebrated it. Until I got to seminary, my only exposure to the season was through Advent calendars, which dispensed little gifts each day leading up to Christmas. They would count down the days, each one getting a little bit closer to the big one. To me, it was all about getting through the calendar as quickly as possible so that I could get to the real gifts. Advent was nothing more than something to rush through on the way to Christmas.
Now, I know that Advent is really the opposite of that.
The season we’re about to enter is not about rushing. Rather, it’s about anticipation. The difference there may be subtle, but it’s important. When we’re looking forward to something, we can take one of two paths: We can barrel towards it as quickly possible, skipping everything in between. Or, we can wait patiently for it, savoring the excitement that comes with anticipating something wonderful.
Practicing anticipation takes focus. This season offers so many distractions, from the sales to the parades to the elaborate decorations to the parties and everything in between. And I’m not saying that any of those things are bad. They’re all meant to celebrate something very good: the birth of Christ. But they are not the thing itself, and it’s important to remember that fact. In the midst of all of the fanfare, it’s much too easy to forget what it’s all about, and that’s where anticipation comes in.
It also takes patience. Just as Mary waited lovingly for her baby to be born, just as the angels stood by with bated breath to sing their song of praise, just as creation itself sat still and silent before the entry of the eternal God into its earthly midst, so we wait for the day that we can participate in their celebration. The birth of Christ is a cause for great joy, and it is even more so once we’ve participated in the anticipation of those who came before us.
I’m still learning what it means to practice anticipation in the season of Advent. The church offers many helpful resources and guides that I hope to dive into in time. But no matter what, I’m choosing to commit myself to practicing anticipation this season as I look forward to celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25.
Maybe you’d like a little more anticipation in this season, too. It doesn’t mean we have to give up the songs, movies, gifts, and treats. (I’m certainly not.) But it does mean that we approach these things in a different way. Rather than rushing through to Christmas or trying to make it last a month or more, why don’t we simply savor the anticipation and look forward to Christ’s arrival together?