Advent is an elusive season. It comes, we’re aware of it, we’re in it. But how much are we living it? Advent, for some reason, is very easily left by the wayside. It is very easy to simply consider it a countdown to Christmas. In many ways, of course, it is. Advent means “coming,” after all, and it’s the awaiting of the coming of Christ.
But that’s the key word: awaiting. Not “here.” “Awaiting.”
It’s so easy to get caught up in everything Christmas-sy as soon as the world tells us we can. Sometimes it begins as early as Halloween (at least in Canada). Secularism simply thrives on every holiday season it can get hold of, and leaps from one to the next. Once one holiday is over on the calendar, the next begins in the stores.
Often it’s as soon as December comes. It’s basically impossible to think about December without thinking about Christmas. It’s not just the stores that make this difficult—it’s also the radio. We just want to listen to our music station, but suddenly there’s Christmas music every third song.
But we can’t jump ahead to Christmas while skipping Advent. Advent is a season of joyful expectancy, but what happens if we get to Christmas and we’ve already spent up all our joy during Advent?
Advent is a season of penance. In the Eastern Byzantine Rite, Advent is known as “Little Lent.” Lent is a pretty big deal in the Byzantine Church, so you can imagine that Advent is as well. In the West, the liturgical colour for both Lent and Advent. Purple is a penitential colour. John the Baptist, whom we hear about so often during this season, calls out for our repentance. So while we are in the middle of all the bustle and buying and baking and exams, we have to remember that this is a season of penance. Lent is rather easy to treat as a season of penance—we know that we have forty days to being heroic and virtuous while we are fasting and making sacrifices worthy of the saints. But during Advent, we can be too eager for Christmas and forget that we must be still and know that the Lord is God (Psalm 46). One thing I’ve done is blocked Netflix and similar sights on my computer for the duration of Advent. I would block YouTube if I could but, unfortunately, I need it for school (sounds strange, I know).
I said that Advent is a season of waiting. When we’re waiting for someone, especially someone we love, we want to prepare for them. We want our house to be tidy, and we put a lot of effort into having everything ready for them. When we know we’re going to be with someone special, we don’t care what sacrifices we have to make for them. And generally speaking, you don’t celebrate someone’s arrival until they actually arrive. Then you celebrate with them. You may be excited that they’re coming, but you wait for them to arrive to celebrate.
In my family, we have the tradition of putting candles (electric, but shhh, no one needs to know) in the windows during Advent. In old times, when someone went on a journey, you would put a candle in the window to wait for and symbolize their return. When we do it in our windows here in my home, we are awaiting the birth and coming of Christ. It is a very welcoming sight to see candles in the windows. It’s like they can speak and are saying, “Welcome home. The food is ready, and the fire is hot. Come and join our family.”
The more we celebrate Advent, not Christmas is almost here, the more we’ll be prepared for the actual coming of Christ. We want to wait for Christ’s birth to celebrate it. When Christmas comes, there is a whole season to celebrate. The Church has given us two separate seasons: Advent and Christmas. So let’s wait until Christmas comes. Let us celebrate Advent. Let us put candles in our hearts so that Christ is welcome there. Let that flame burn away all selfish desires and make our hearts ready for the coming of a child.