From all of us at Rogue Millennials, we wish you a Happy Advent.
I’ll be honest, though; this is the first time I’ve ever really observed Advent in any way. Before this holiday season, it was only ever just something with that candle wreath thing at the Methodist church where my family goes once a year for a beautiful Christmas Eve service.
This year, something changed. A podcast I began listening to a few weeks back issued a challenge to give new life to Advent and to stop the encroachment of Christmas upon it. Obviously, I found this idea intriguing.
As it turns out, calling the holiday season as a whole “Christmastime” is a rather broad generalization. In church history, Christmastime was made up of the time after Christmas. It was a 12-day celebration beginning on Christmas Day (celebrating the birth of our Lord) and ending on Epiphany (a commemoration of when the Magi discovered Jesus).
*So there’s where the 12 Days of Christmas comes from. You’re welcome.*
Advent, in contrast, is made up of the time before Christmas, particularly the four Sundays before. So what is the big deal with Advent anyway? Why observe it? Why care?
While Christmas celebrates the arrival of Jesus, Advent commemorates the waiting for the Messiah and the clinging to the promise of a Savior.
Advent points us to something that I believe has become a forgotten virtue in our society, and in Western Christianity: the virtue of waiting.
In our commercialized consumer society, we scramble during Christmas trying to get everything bought, wrapped, and set. We’re trying to get everyone crossed off our gift list, trying to find the perfect *insert random tchotchke here*, figuring out which ugly sweater should be worn to which party, and making sure the eggnog has enough rum to knock out a pirate.
We keep rushing and rushing, and before we know it, Christmas is come and gone, and all we have to show for the season of the birth of our Lord is a garbage bag full of torn wrapping paper, a legion of gifts to be returned or regifted, and a strange mix of relief and regret that the holiday is over.
We’re so busy getting every single gift and threatening any retail worker or barista who dares say “Happy Holidays” or place an X in “Merry Christmas” that we miss it completely. The point is gone, that the fulfillment of centuries of hopes, dreams, anguish, and suspense finally came to pass in one magical night.
It’s ironic how much emphasis we place on watching for the Second Coming in American Christianity, because we consistently miss the First.
That’s where Advent comes in: it reminds us to wait.
The Old Testament is a long compendium of waiting for the promised Messiah, from Genesis to Malachi.
When Adam and Eve gave in to sin in the Garden, despite the curses and judgement it brought upon humanity, God gives a declaration of hope in a warning to Satan in Genesis 3:15.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This declaration, often referred to as the “Proto-Evangelium,” many consider the first Messianic prophecy. It declared the eventual defeat of the dark forces that had hijacked God’s creation. And so, the faithful waited.
Through Scripture: God raised a people, made covenants with them, brought them to a land, raised their kingdom, and worked toward the promise that the whole world would one day be blessed through them. And so, the faithful waited.
In the midst of judgments, exiles, and returns, prophecies were made of the Messiah, the one who would come to bring freedom, justice, and restoration; the one who would suffer, die, and be raised to break the bondage of the curses upon the people. The coming of a King was promised. And so, the faithful waited.
Through years of anticipation, conquests, occupations, and silence, the faithful waited.
Then an angel visited a teenage virgin in a podunk town in Judea and told of the favor she found with God and the plan for this Messiah to come from her very womb. She and her husband would endure suspicion, whispers, and a long journey to a far off town where all these things would come to pass. And so, the faithful waited.
And then, the wait was over. The Messiah arrived.
Advent invites us to return to this waiting; the tension, the hopes and dreams pinned on the promise, the longing, the desperation, the yielding. Advent turns our attentions to the work of God, that we may anticipate the coming of the Lord instead of missing it.
Advent invites us to cling to hope, to walk in love, to pursue peace, and to await the completion of our joy in the Lord. Advent allows us to wait and build our anticipation, so that when Christmas comes, we can welcome it rather than seeing it suddenly pass by, and celebrate it with newfound fervor. It invites us to await the First Coming of the Lord all over again, and in doing so, reminds us of how to prepare for His Second. It invites us to long for Him and seek Him, and to prepare our hearts to receive Him.
And so, we wait…