by David Romanik
For many years now, I have been somewhat uncompromising when it comes to the season of Advent. As radio stations switch over to 24-hour Christmas programming and people in my neighborhood start festooning their homes with garlands and Christmas lights, I stubbornly insist on the importance of giving the season of Advent its due. Indeed, I have had epithets of “Grinch” and “Scrooge” hurled in my direction, all because of my tendency throughout the first weeks of December to remind people that it is not yet Christmas.
The reason for my obstinacy is my belief that our premature Christmas celebrations tend to distract us from our observance of Advent. This is more than mere liturgical assiduousness (thought that is probably part of it). I genuinely believe that the season of Advent reveals how we can be faithful in the face of uncertainty and grief. Advent is our opportunity to walk with our ancestors in the faith, who waited for God to fulfill the promise of redemption. The act of waiting, in other words, allows us to more fully appreciate what God accomplished in the birth that we celebrate on December 25th.
In this unusual year, our observance of Advent is closer to what I would have thought was an ideal acknowledgement of the season. Christmas parties are few and far between, and the general air of festivity has been overshadowed by a seemingly unending stream of challenges. Most of us are in a period of extended waiting: waiting for a vaccine, waiting to see those we love, waiting for things to go back to “normal”. While I have appreciated the opportunity to explore faithful waiting over these past few weeks, I don’t think I ever realized how painful it would be to observe Advent “properly”. For many people, the yearning of the prophets for redemption feels more familiar and resonant than ever before. In many ways, this season has just been a cruel reminder of how desperate we are for some good news.
For this reason, some might argue that this is a year to skip Advent, because we could all use a little Christmas, “right this very minute”. It is the season of Advent, however, that reminds us to watch for the light even when darkness surrounds on every side. This year, Advent is less an academic and liturgical exercise and more a moral imperative. Christians are often called “Easter people”, but I also think that we are also “Advent people”. Our call as Advent people is to help those around us look for hope and redemption in a world in which both seem to be in short supply. People today are looking for hope, but more specifically, I think they are wondering how to hope. Advent equips us to show the world what that looks like.