I was late coming to Advent. The church of my childhood and youth never observed a season of preparation leading to Christmas day. We were left, then, to “get ready for Christmas” the same way secular people did: by overfilling our schedules, spending too much money, bingeing on TV Christmas specials, and eating way too many sweet treats.
Of course, a fair bit of the time, the result was that I didn’t actually prepare for Christmas at all. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the lights, the tinsel, the carols, and all the rest; I loved them—and I still do! The problem is that much of the outward trappings of Christmas don’t always draw us into the depths of its holy mystery. In fact, if we’re not careful, they can even shield us from that mystery.
That’s why I have come to appreciate the discipline of Advent. Advent taps the brakes on our culture’s frenetic Christmas “preparations.” Sometimes, it slams on those brakes with both feet. At it’s most basic, Advent insistently whispers, “Pace yourself; it’s not Christmas yet.”
And when I come more slowly into Christmas, I can better appreciate what that season really means, and how my life should be different because of that meaning.
John the Baptist is a patron saint of Advent waiting and preparation. His ministry in the wilderness got people ready for Jesus to show up. He announced the coming of the kingdom of heaven and called people to repent—just as Jesus did.
And what better way to prepare for Christmas than to get serious about what Jesus said to do?
(This blog post first appeared in an ever so slightly different form at Coracle.)