It’s not surprising that as we enter December, we hear more about “Christmas” than “Advent.” Christmas is the celebration, the feasting, the gratification of desire. Advent involves something with candles that the pastor may mention a few times in December, a vague idea of talking about Christmas before it’s actually here. That’s a shame, because Advent, the build-up to Christmas, is the last bastion of ritual waiting in our culture.
Advent (which means “coming” in Latin) starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and is the beginning of the liturgical year. Google defines it as either “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event,” the liturgical holiday, or the second coming of Christ. All of these meanings are bound up in the observance of Advent, but there are more reasons to celebrate the holiday.
Advent reminds us of our own inadequacy
First of all, Advent, like Lent, promotes self-discipline and self-denial. So much of modern Western life is about possessing or acquiring satisfaction, while Advent slows time to focus on the waiting itself. It draws attention to the lack of possession, to the ticking of the clock, amid the madness of the Christmas rush to have. Therein, Advent reminds us of our own inadequacy and fallenness, and reminds us to slow down to meditate on the sustaining power of God. The Lord instructs us in Psalm 46:10 to “be still and know that I am God.” and in Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
Advent defies the worship of efficiency
Paradoxically, while Advent is a study in discipline, it is also reckless and (that most accursed of words in our materialistic society) wasteful. Much of our lives is centered on using time efficiently. Every spare moment must serve a purpose. Even entertainment is shoved into the silent moments: While we exercise, we listen to music – while we work, the TV is on in the background. Hundreds of articles detail ways to multi-task our lives. Rest should, efficiently, only be taken when we are weary. That is its purpose. Advent – a time in which we wait for something to happen – tells us to be still even when we are not tired. What purpose could that serve? Perhaps it is to remind us to focus on something besides our own gratification. On the seventh day God rested, not because he was weary, but merely to rest and observe the fruit of his labors, the world itself.
Advent makes us battle our dissatisfaction
One of the most insidious consequences of the Fall is our dissatisfaction with God’s gifts. Advent invites us to slow and notice the largest, most obvious, least appreciated gift of all: our everyday surroundings. We are so used to constant distractions – the unending flood of work and entertainment – that when these things are absent, we have no way of coping with the boredom that results. To consciously slow down means we must actively work to be thankful: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).
Advent reminds us that we are still waiting
As Israel had to wait many years for her Messiah to arrive, so the Church is still waiting for Christ to come again and put our broken world to rights. The knowledge of this combines to form both a lament and a hope – the kingdom is here already, but not yet.
Advent helps us to be Christ-like
Christ himself spent 30 years on Earth before beginning his ministry. In that time, he memorized the scriptures and studied God’s word. An atheist friend once asked me why God had to literally enter the world and sacrifice himself – could he not have simply declared sins forgiven? Why the cross? There are several answers to that question, but the simplest is that God does not treat this world like a video game with cheat codes and data ready to be altered at the press of a button.
God considered it important to limit himself by waiting before the arrival of the promise.
So should we.