Easy listening stations have been pumping out wall-to-wall Christmas music for almost a month now. Still, that’s nothing compared to 2001. In the wake of September 11, one station near me started airing holiday music in early October because, as their jingle relentlessly proclaimed, “We need a little Christmas now.”
Yet for all our rush to get to Christmas, in about four weeks we’ll be scrambling to put it behind us with similar haste. Today, that same radio station is already assuring listeners that its usual mix of adult contemporary pop will return the minute Christmas is behind us.
We’re not very good at waiting for Christmas—or lingering over it, when it finally comes.
I think one reason it’s hard to wait is because we’re hoping for some kind of respite from the world—the kind of respite Christmas seems to offer. We want to come in from the cold, even if it’s just for a little while.
But somehow the payoff of Christmas feels hollow when we finally get there. It never quite delivers the respite or the escape or the “peace on earth” we’re looking for. Maybe that’s why “after-Christmas letdown” is a thing—one with over a million search results. Christmas ends… and we’re left facing the world as it is again.
I believe the answer lies, in part, in allowing ourselves to fully experience Advent first.
Advent forces us to linger in the dark—even as we wait, sometimes impatiently, for our redemption. It’s only by lingering here that we can see the light of Christmas properly, that we can appreciate the full implications of this sacred festival.
This year, Advent began with a quote from Jesus mentioning “distress among nations,” a reference that surely rings true today. “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world,” Jesus warned.
His prediction is coming true all around us, as it has been for two thousand years.
Advent calls us to look upon the distress of our world. The devastation of Paris, Beirut, Syria. The murder of Laquan McDonald—and hundreds like him—at the hands of a system that criminalizes blackness. The blasphemous contradiction of a pro-life killer or a Christian who turns away refugees.
Advent insists that we see the world as it is—that we see its brokenness and our part in it.
This can be challenging for those of us who’ve known nothing but privilege and power and comfort our whole lives. Those, however, who’ve experienced alienation or oppression firsthand don’t need to be told the world is not as it should be. They don’t need to be lectured on the importance of Advent. Their lives are an Advent in the making. Advent gives a name and a voice to their lived reality—a reality the rest of us would rather ignore.
Advent won’t allow us to ignore the brokenness of our world—which is why it’s important we refuse to ignore Advent.
Confronting the brokenness of our world means confronting the brokenness in our own hearts as well. It means confronting our complicity in systems that oppress, discriminate, or take away life.
It’s the only way we will ever properly understand Christmas, the only way we’ll ever get to the much-longed-for payoff.
The Virgin Mary anticipated that her son would bring down rulers, lift up the humble, feed the hungry—and send the rich packing. His birth challenged (and continues to challenge) the legitimacy of an empire built upon slavery and coercion. His birth challenged the tyranny of a local despot, Herod the Great—who saw this peasant child as a threat to his reign, forcing Jesus and his family to join the long stream of refugees who have fled violence and destruction, both then and now.
That’s the Christmas story—a story that only makes sense in light of Advent, as God’s answer to the brokenness and cruelty of our world. To experience the respite Christmas offers, we first have to understand: respite from what and for whom?
We also need to understand that Christmas is a story still in the making. Mary’s vision is as yet unrealized. The angelic proclamation of “peace on earth” is not something we’re supposed to just sit around and wait for. (No peace this year. Oh well… maybe next Christmas.) The Christmas proclamation is a vision we are called to embody.
This Advent, linger a little over the brokenness in our world. Allow this season of preparation to help you experience Christmas for what it really is: God’s answer to the cruelty, injustice, and oppression around us and in us. May you experience “peace on earth” as something more than just vague idealism, but as something we are called to enact.