I so need Advent this year. Advent is the Church’s answer to the Hallowthankmas madness, otherwise known as the “holiday season.” Advent is about quiet and reflection, not excess. Traditionally, Advent is a penitential season like Lent only less intense. It is a time to reflect on the three comings of Christ: as a baby born in Bethlehem, as Christ the King in his Second Coming, and his daily coming into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Advent is “more through less” vs. the commercial holiday season which is “excess leading to emptiness.”
It’s that time of year. I keep hearing complaints (and reading them on Facebook) that the retail market has turned October through December into one big “hallogivingmas” holiday. It’s exciting! Stimulating!
And too much.
I substitute-taught a class the other week called “Discovering your Design.” The course uses personality assessments to help people uncover what they were created to do. This class in particular, on “values,” included a Venn diagram illustrating how our ideal values only partly match up with the way we actually live our lives. The page in my teacher’s handbook showed two circles overlapping in a small oblong area in the middle. The first circle was our current reality; the second circle was a future ideal. I told the students that their goal was to push these two circles together until they were a single circle drawn around twice.
Syncopation: you either love it or you hate it.
In musical terms, syncopation is a break in the established time signature or rhythm of the song. I remember playing a jazzy blues tune that I liked for a friend in college. Three-quarters into the tune, the music broke rhythm and a couple of seconds of syncopation ensued. My friend said, “I really like the song except for the part toward the end.” He was referring to the syncopation. He then said: “It felt like a ‘hic-up.’”
It’s easy to deplore the excesses of American commercial Christmas with its formidable combination of Santa Claus, credit cards, and Toys R Us. Yet, sometimes I wonder if the giddy excitement my siblings and I as children felt on Christmas Eve is a strikingly good picture of the spirit of Advent—the joyful anticipation of a coming gift. What if the Santa Claus fable functions like one of Jesus’s parables: a secular story that captures our imagination and embodies what it’s like to live in the kingdom of God?
There really is no better time than Advent to talk about the mystery of waiting. Under the best of circumstances, the delayed gratification of waiting is not something we embrace easily. The culture we have built bullies us into thinking that unless we have the next trinket, the next job, the next vacation, the next relationship, right away, our lives are somehow incomplete. What compounds the situation is the fact that we have effectively done away with waiting through “no monthly payments, no interest for a year” or “buy now, pay later” or “sleep with me now and I’ll still love you” or “let’s order pizza since there’s no time to make dinner.” And on and on it goes.