Someone offered to help me pick up my Christmas tree today, but I wasn’t ready. They admonished me that I only had two more weeks before Christmas, but to me, that feels like an eternity of time. In my family we’ve always waited to decorate or put up the tree until later in December, sometimes waiting until Christmas Eve, because my grandmother’s birthday was the day after Epiphany, and we would leave the tree up at least that long, if not longer. I have grown up with the idea that “’twas in the bleak midwinter, when half spent was the night” refers mostly to January, which is a crappy, wet, month.
I have written before about Advent. I wasn’t really formally aware of the season or practice of Advent until a couple of years ago, when listening to a gut-wrenching, yet delicate sermon by the Reverend Gina Campbell. She spoke of Advent, the season before the birth of Jesus that is the actual beginning of Christmastide, as the “almost, but not quite yet of God” and I thought it was perhaps the most poignant phrase I’d ever heard. Advent is actually how the Christian year starts- in darkness, uncertainty, confusion, pain. Something about this information adhered me even closer to my faith, a faith I have chosen not for the certainty, but for the questions. For the Jesus who said “take this cup away from me,” not the triumphant risen Christ. Since that sermon I’ve become an Advent junky. An Advent Advocate. An Adventocate, if you will.
(You won’t. You shouldn’t.)
I think Advent resonates so hard for me because so much of life is taken up by anticipation, by expectation, and by anxiety. If we’re lucky, mixed in there is hope. Advent is a quiet, contemplative season, a darkness before the dawn, where you are asked to go inward and think of what you are willing to make space for, to invite Christ in. Unfortunately, it coincides in our culture with the brightest, and sometimes most commercial, outwardly focused time of the year. Christmas music of celebration is everywhere, lights and greenery and heavy appetizers abound, but I’m not there-yet.
Because the truth is, it’s still fall, and I am not yet ready for Christmas right now. I am still in my fear, in my pain, in my anger, in my questions. I do not yet long for Christmas; I am not yet open to Christmas. But I will. I will need Christmas in the middle of January, when it is dark and bleak and there’s not much to look forward to. I will need Christmas then- even more so in this particular January, knowing what’s coming for our country- and luckily that is actually when Christmas is. People take down their trees on Boxing Day because they’ve had them up since the day after Thanksgiving, and they’re now a fire hazard, but I hate to tell you folks: that was an Advent Tree. And it’s fine, if that’s how you like to celebrate, if you need Christmas in December, good for you! Chronos and Kairos, ordinary time and divine time, do not track the same for every person, and you may find that you need a little Christmas, right this very minute- in the dead of summer. But I come today to defend Advent. To cherish, or perhaps even protect it a bit from it’s flashier sister of Christmastide. To remember that to everything there is a season, and this season of darkness, of longing, of deep inner exploration, is the contrasting blackness against which the light of Christmastide shines all the brighter.
And perhaps that is the greater lesson that I hope we can take away this season, which is a unique season unto itself. That there is meaning in the quiet before the storm, in the sadness, the longing, the before-ing that makes the joy of the having all the greater. I get it, 2016 was a son of a bitch of a year, and I think we’re all more than ready to shove it out the door. But I think we should try and linger over it a moment longer, to catch our breath, regroup, and take stock. To not rush headlong into the next thing without appreciating the gravity of what was, and what is to come. The waiting is the hardest part, but it is a necessary part, for Christmas is a new beginning; Advent is the sweet space in which we get to decide what it is we want to begin.