We are barely one week into Advent, a time of designated waiting. In the church tradition, we are waiting for the birth of Christ, the Messiah’s entrance into the world. We are told to be watchful during our wait, to prepare for His coming.
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'” – Mark 13:33-37
The sense of anticipation and drive to prepare is echoed in our secular traditions. Advent calendars, Christmas shopping, holiday music… all of this increase our sense of excited anticipation. Children are the clearest mirrors of this, simply bubbling over with impatience for the day. We are all waiting and preparing for big parties and family gathers. I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed at the demands upon our time and budget. In our rush to please, we pack the calendar and our shopping lists. FOMO creeps in as we see others posting on social media about fun family activities, crazy Elf on the Shelf antics, and heart-warming charitable work. Yet we can hope and pray that all this frantic activity will mean we are fully prepared and can get the most out of the holiday. We are buying gifts, making lists, wrapping presents, decorating, cooking, sending cards, and generally scrambling to get it all done ahead of Christmas.
To sum it up, we are all waiting and preparing for fulfillment.
This time of year, whether you are religious or not, brings a sense of yearning to the front of our lives. Desire and anticipation. It is okay, expected, and encouraged to want for something around Christmas. Even in the Grinch-y-est of people, there is a sense of hope and possibility that the holes this imperfect world creates might be filled during Christmas. That we might get our wishes. That we might come out on the other side feeling complete. How else do we explain our love of Hallmark Christmas movies?
It’s pretty hope, with sparkly bows and angel trees. But it’s misplaced. And ultimately a dangerous lie.
As a stress-eater extraordinaire, I will never say that a bowl of popcorn or cup of hot chocolate can’t be therapeutic for your stress levels. But calories don’t fill that empty space in your soul. I know this on an intellectual level, though my stomach and will-power seem to still be in denial. While I get super excited when sweet potato casserole season arrives, that sugary pecan crust will not make me a whole person. Neither will presents, parties, wine, cookies, twinkle lights, Santa, shopping, or stockings.
Before you start thinking that I’m going to preach ‘Reason for the Season’ and beat that particular Bible over your head… that won’t work either. Even if you are putting forth all the effort in the world to create a Jesus-centered Christmas, with advent wreaths, Nativity scenes, and daily scripture readings. Let’s keep that Christian high-horse in the barn. True, you will likely receive much more personal spiritual edification that way. Anytime we genuinely come to Him for nourishment, we will be fed. But to imagine you will find complete fulfillment is denying a hard truth and setting yourself up for disappointment when the warmth of the hot chocolate and the glow of the candles die out. Our Christmas holiday does not fix our world. It cannot fix us. This world will reopen the wounds and create new holes as fast as we try to fill them. Until we go Home to Jesus or He comes to us , we are incomplete.
I’m not trying to depress anyone or dampen the Christmas spirit. We simply need to remember what we are waiting for and remind ourselves that we are still waiting for it after December 25th. The symbolic waiting and preparation of Advent culminates in our Christmas celebrations. We should certainly celebrate the birth of Christ because it is the birth of HOPE. Without Christmas, there is no hope in the future, no light in the darkness. But we wait for and celebrate a birth, a beginning. We are still waiting for the end of the story, for the true fulfillment that won’t come until He comes again.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,…
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him. – Isaiah 63:19-64:3
I am over the Christmas rush, the stress, the expectations. Before it even began, I was over it. But I still love to play my Christmas records and decorate the tree. In the midst of it call, despite the frustration, we CAN recapture the innocent wonder and magic we felt as carefree children. We CAN remember that our traditions and activities are symbolic of a bigger picture. This season can teach us wait with watchful anticipation, and to carry that into the rest of the year. It can remind us of what we want for the world, for ourselves. Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men pair just as well with pool parties and cookouts as they do with carols and eggnog.