This Is Not the Christmas Season

Just thought I'd bring it up, because you wouldn't know it from walking into your local Walmart, turning on the radio, or taking a stroll around the block. In fact, according to the gods of retail, it's been Christmas since the day after Halloween. Of course there was that Thanksgiving blip in the middle but, hey, the décor meshes well enough.

This past Sunday was the beginning of a time of year that many Christians have traditionally observed as a period of preparation for Christmas. It's called Advent, which is from the Latin verb for "to come." Christmas is soon to come, but it is not here yet.

To recognize that reality is to see that Christmas is more than just a mother and father gazing peacefully at their newborn child, surrounded by an aura of light and singing angels. It is that. But it is also the passionate human drama that preceded that event and gave it meaning.

A young girl who risked everything to carry the Incarnate God in her womb for nine months. A man who took the weight of the world on his shoulders when he became that girl's husband. A people living in spiritual and political slavery, longing for a promised Savior. An entire world in the throes of darkness and sin, desperately in need of redemption.

If there is a holiday that is about fulfilled anticipation it is Christmas. This is why it was traditionally preceded by a season commemorating the fact that the world had to first anticipate Christ's coming, and that it anticipates still His return.

The problem with ditching Advent and going straight to the main event is that it's hard to experience fulfilled anticipation if you haven't first experienced anticipation. And I've noticed that fulfilled anticipation makes all the best things in life so much better.

My acquaintance with life experiences is, perhaps, comparatively short, but I did recently discover that sweet potatoes taste approximately five million times better when roasted in the oven than in the microwave. They're done a lot faster in the microwave, of course, but they're mushy, bland, and possibly carcinogenic.

Oh, and I also waited until my wedding night to give myself to my husband. That's another course of action I recommend.

The instant gratification that the modern world offers extends beyond our dinner plates and our sex lives. Thanks to the internet, we can hit "enter" and have any question answered, except, of course, the most important ones. Thanks to modern communication methods, we can say whatever we want, to whomever we want, whenever we want. Thanks to modern transportation, we can be halfway across the world in half a day.

Am I suggesting that we turn back the clock and ditch all these innovations and technologies, many of which have brought about undeniable good? No. I am suggesting that they should be tools, not lifestyle choices; that we should consider whether we need to be quite so surrounded by and dependent upon them. I am suggesting that we foster a greater awareness of the subtle effect it has on our disposition towards life to live in a paradise of effortless pleasures.

Above all, I am suggesting we could benefit greatly from a yearly reminder that instant gratification can shield us from reality and deprive us of some of life's most satisfying experiences.

Fasting, deprivation and waiting: these are unavoidable realities and there is no reason to flinch from them. There is truly no feasting like that which comes after the fast.

Advent is the season of waiting, and so it has little place in the world of microwaves and pre-marital sex. Like good food and virginity, it is a casualty of our vending machine culture.

Let's bring it back, shall we? Let's reclaim Christmas for Christ by waiting for His birth to celebrate it. Let's turn off the Christmas tunes for a minute, light a few candles (traditional Advent decorations), and play "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." It is haunting, profound, healing, and perfectly captures everything I love about this time of year.

Advent is one of my favorite seasons because I think it resonates deeply with the human condition. It is filled with the joy of the "soon to come," but permeated with the sadness of the "not yet." It is about embracing deprivation as an experience that ennobles and purifies, and readies us for the fulfillment of our hopes.

Christianity is a religion of fulfilled hopes, and a religion of waiting. This is one of the many ways in which it is so counter-cultural.

Israel waited thousands of years for the Savior. We can wait a few more weeks.