My own conversion to Advent appreciation came several years before our children. A combination of authors I was reading at the time, that love-to-hate relationship most people, myself included, have with the ever-greater and ever-earlier commercial observances of Christmas, and a new marriage with its attendant questions about how our new family was going to celebrate holidays conspired together to bring me down firmly on the side of Advent.
I count myself fortunate for the years of joy the observance of Advent has brought me—as Malcolm Guite has observed it is “a season of waiting and anticipation in which the waiting itself is strangely rich and fulfilling”—but had I not embraced it then, I cannot imagine that it wouldn’t have caught up to me eventually in my children because children are the embodiment of Advent. Sometime shortly after Thanksgiving this year, I slipped up and mentioned the C-word in the presence of Carmel and Zion, and since then, it’s been pretty much a daily question “When is it going to be Christmas?”
Stripped to its core, that is the fundamental question of Advent, and of the Christian life, “When will the Messiah come?” It is the question that Israel asked through hundreds of years of exile and foreign occupation. It is the question that after four hundred years of deafening silence, God answered in the manger in Bethlehem. But from Jesus’ ascension, when the disciples were left staring, disconsolate, into the sky, it has been taken back up by every Christian in moments of personal pain or frustration at the way the world does not resemble the promises of Scripture.
As Guite, again, reflects, the observance of Advent helps us to “restore that quietness, that inner peace, that willingness to wait unfulfilled in the dark, in the midst of a season that conspires to do nothing but fling bling and tinsel at us right through December.” The early agrarian parables of Jesus certainly speak to this waiting—the waiting for the seed to grow, the waiting of the farmer whose enemy has sown tares. Jesus’ late parable of the Ten Virgins, also a hallmark of Advent readings, contains a strong theme of patience. But while the farmer waiting for the seed to sprout may be argued to demonstrate a form of inactive waiting, it is from the five wise virgins that we get Advent’s second great theme—preparation. John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Messiah, takes up the words of Isaiah, action verbs all—Prepare. Make Straight. Bear Fruit. Repent.
While the season of Advent instructs us, in the midst of our yearning, to long-suffering, it also directs us to prepare ourselves because Jesus will surely come and we do not want to be caught unawares.
Even as I encourage my children to patience (and to stop nagging me), I cannot but remind them that Christmas will come. A better world, filled with lights and music, wine and chocolate, is just over the horizon, but simply waiting for it is not enough; we must prepare. There are cookies to be baked, gifts to be purchased and wrapped, decisions to be made about who will be invited to supper and who will be on-call at the clinic (where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and double pay). As we participate in these activities, we reaffirm the coming of Christmas, and as we cultivate patience in our children and in ourselves, we look forward to that great Advent when the Messiah will come, not as a weak and helpless child, but with power as a king determined to set everything wrong at last right. And who can know the splendorous decoration the Christmas cookies will have at the wedding supper of the Lamb?
Come, Lord, quickly come.