Anticipating Advent

By Kit Carlson

It is mid-November. Halloween is past, and Veterans’ Day is just behind us. Down my street, my neighbor has illuminated his Christmas display. The seasonal banners are hanging from street lights all over town. “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” has already aired on TBS.

It makes me feel extremely Grinchy.

I used to love Christmas, the sense of eager anticipation, the joyous hustle and bustle of much to get ready in a short time, of a great festival lurking around the corner like the eschaton … almost here but not quite.

But of course, that was when the season started on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. That was before radio stations started playing ’round the clock Christmas songs starting in the middle of November. Although this all had roots in pagan celebrations to fight back the darkness of the winter solstice, our current celebrations now dawdle their way through the crisp and colorful autumn, practically from the equinox. It makes one wonder … hmmm, shall I blow leaves, or shall I inflate the penguin snow globe on my lawn?

We have lost the sense of holy anticipation, one that was once evoked even by our culture (“Only 22 shopping days until Christmas!”) until just a few years ago.

But I find myself feeling all kind of tingly inside anyway. I am anticipatory, looking forward with great joy and eagerness to the upcoming season …

to Advent.

Advent is coming! Four weeks of secret retreat and refreshment among the cultural commercial festival. Four weeks of quiet prayer, of hymns that have nothing to do with Santa Claus coming to town, but that sing instead of Jesus coming to town, often in a big and judgmental, wrapping-it-all-up-in-a-big-finish-kind-of-way. Forget the drive-through light festival in the local park. We’ve got the moon running red with blood and stars falling from the sky.

Advent is coming! With hairy, scary John the Baptist filling two full weeks with his cries of “hurry up!” and “turn around!” and “the Messiah’s coming right quick!” It’s urgent, it’s important, and it has nothing to do with getting my shopping done. It’s bigger. It’s cosmic. It’s fantastic.

Advent is coming! And this year we get Joseph, mulling and puzzling — not over what to get old Aunt Martha — but what to give Mary, his fiancee. A quiet divorce, an annulment of their betrothal, or the gift of a name, a husband, a father for her child? Will he share in the gift that God wants to give the world, or will he turn away, caught up in the demands and dreams of the culture that surrounds him?

Advent is coming! With carols and hymns you’ll never hear on the local, all-Xmas, all-the-time radio station: “Lo, he comes with clouds descending,” “Creator of the stars of night” “On Jordan’s bank, the Baptist’s cry,” “Wake, awake, for night is flying.” With candles lit, one by one, week by week — lights shining in the darkness. With early twilights and trees etched like black lace against the fading sunsets.

Advent is the church’s gift to us this holiday season, a holy, sacred, secret observance nestled quietly in the heart of ho-ho-ho and Santa Baby and too much angst and stress and nonsense.

Advent is coming, and I can’t wait!

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary. In 2003, she played the apostle Paul on the world’s first internet reality series, The Ark, a project of the Christian humor website Ship of Fools.

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