Advent is my favorite season of the year. I think it comes from my own psychological baggage. I’ve always felt deeply empty—my therapist might encourage me to say worthless. I know I’m a beloved child of God. I just don’t always feel it.
I recently heard Ian Morgan Cron speak in a chapel service at Olivet Nazarene University. He talked specifically about this inner sense of emptiness with which I often identify so well. He called it a “universal piece of the human condition,” and that made me feel better. Perhaps I’m not as alone or unusual as I might’ve thought. I suppose a sanctified Nazarene elder such as myself shouldn’t still be struggling with issues of worth and purpose, but here I am—and I no longer think I’m alone.
That’s exactly why I like Advent. Advent is the season that provides impetus for Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of incarnation, of Christ coming to earth as a cute little baby. But the very act of incarnation raises the question: Why? Of course, love is a huge part of the answer, but the more specific question is, why do we need the kind of amazing, sacrificial, godly love we see in the birth of Christ?
Well, it’s because we’re in such a sorry spot.
It’s that distance, that great divide between who we are and who we were created to be, that Christ comes to bridge. That’s Christmas.
The world is pretty messed up most of the time, and we, the people of God, are far too often caught right in the middle of it. There are pain and violence and abuse and war and depression and divorce and greed and selfishness—and there’s just as much of it inside the church as outside it. We’re all terribly inadequate. It’s that distance, that great divide between who we are and who we were created to be, that Christ comes to bridge. That’s Christmas.
And Advent is about measuring the gap between ourselves and Christ and affirming our inability to cross it. In Advent we mourn, lament, confess, and beg. We mourn the great potential of God’s creation and the ways in which we’ve helped to mess it up. We lament the great terrors we human beings have wrought on the world and just how many of them have grown out of control. We confess our inadequacy to tackle even the simplest of tasks without the divine presence of God almighty. And we beg for mercy. Please, Lord, don’t let us go down with this ship!
Advent is the season when we remind each other of how far we have to go but also of how much God loves us and the absolute, unquestionable salvation that waits just around the bend. Yes, we are preparing to celebrate the first coming of Messiah and also his imminent return. We bask in the joy of God’s love—the love articulated so eloquently in John 3:16—but we also sit with bated breath, anticipating the culmination of the kingdom that Christ ushered in with his presence and that we so desperately need.
Advent can be freeing for people who feel obligated to solve all the problems of the world.
I love Advent because this one time of year, in the midst of holiness culture, there’s permission to be me. I know we like to say we’re not about sinless perfection anymore, but that idea is just such a part of our DNA that its shadow always lingers. There’s a (hopefully unspoken) drive to be light-years ahead of where we are. Always better. Never satisfied.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that drive (in moderation), but we need a season to escape those pressures and just be faulty human beings who are in need of a Savior. It might not sound like Advent is a time for rejoicing—what with all the confessing, mourning, and lament—but Advent can be freeing for people who feel obligated to solve all the problems of the world.
Advent is our season to recognize the futility of our strivings and to place all our hope in God. The early cry of Advent was Maranatha (“Come, Lord”)—the only prayer possible when we’re at the end of our rope, when our only hope is the only hope. It’s true that God meets every need, but we rarely see God’s way through the darkness of our desperation. Salvation comes in unexpected ways—like a baby in a manger when it feels like we need an army.
Salvation comes in unexpected ways—like a baby in a manger when it feels like we need an army.
Advent prepares the way for Christmas, just like Lent does for Easter. We need the struggle in order to properly appreciate the miracle. We need to live in the midst of who we really are before we can approach the awesome majesty of who we were created to be.
Don’t skip Advent. Don’t make it just four weeks of advertisement for Christmas. (The retail industry does enough of that for everyone.) Sit in the tension of the already and the not yet. Create anticipation for the glory yet to come by recognizing the profound sadness of a world not yet complete.
And when you get to Christmas, enjoy the whole thing. Those twelve days are not just an annoying song. The wisdom of our ancestors knew we needed more than just one hectic morning of wrapping paper and pajamas to fully pay off our sorrow-filled anticipation. We’ll be back in the midst of the world soon enough. Sing carols on New Year’s Eve. Say “Merry Christmas” during the Rose Bowl parade.
It’s a long year and a long life. We need Advent. We need Christmas. They help us celebrate all of who we are—complex, often inferior, and entirely messed up; but also beautiful, beloved, lovingly crafted creations, in the very image of God.
The world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket, but it’s okay to feel like it is once in a while. That’s called Advent, and it’s my favorite season of the year.
A version of the this post also appears here.