And so Advent is over. Many would say that it is too soon. “I still have a lot to do before Christmas. Preparations to make, last minute gifts to buy, things to do, people to see. Advent can’t be over.” Others say “Finally! Advent is all about Christmas, and here is Christmas.”
We have experienced Advent, as we always do, at the same time as and in connection with “the holidays,” with all the parties and other festive events, Christmas shopping season, with the pressures of getting the right gifts and making sure they are properly wrapped, sent on their way, and received on time, family time with our need to connect and reconnect with those most dear to us in a special way. All these things are good, necessary even, but they are not Advent.
I experienced Advent as a seminarian for several years a long time ago in a semi-cloistered community of religious men without all of the other things that happen each year in December. I do not want to say that this was better or worse, but it was different, and I liked it that way.
To this day almost 60 years later I still think that the Christmas season should begin with – well – Christmas. I believe that Christmas carols and other similar music should be limited – well – to the Christmas season. For this particular opinion, I am often considered to be Scrooge, the Grinch, or just plain old and grouchy because I am not interested in singing or listening to carols in malls, the car, or even in churches for weeks before Christmas.
The Advent that I like is not primarily a time to get ready for the Incarnation, nor is it a time to remember the thousands of years during which the Jews yearned for the Messiah. Advent is about a coming for sure, but to me it is not THAT coming. That coming, important as it is in the history of the salvation of the world is, in the end, history. I like to think of Advent as being about my salvation right here, right now.
Advent uses salvation history to remind me that, in my life just as in the history of the Jewish people, there is always turning away from and returning back to God. There are three recurrent themes. First and foremost, God’s love for me, no matter what I do, no matter what happens around me, no matter how self-destructive I am, no matter what other people think, and so on and so forth, God loves me. And he loves me in the only way God can love, totally and completely, unconditionally and with no “earning” on my part. Secondly, for some reason, (call it original sin if you want, but that seems like a cop-out to me) despite my best efforts, I keep turning away from God. And, finally, despite my best efforts to justify myself, blaming God, and trying to keep myself at the center of my universe, I always know and am constantly reminded that I need to turn back to God because in the end I am at the center of nothing. Its what St. Augustine wrote, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”
So, why do I like Advent as a liturgical event separated from the rest of December? Because I need to be reminded over and over of the central truths of Advent whenever my weather vane heart starts to turn in the slightest wind. Maybe I will need a new Advent next week or next month or … I don’t know. I am just glad that I had this one just now so that I can think back on it to get myself pointed in the right direction again.