I like Advent. Though it’s no Lent whose themes of sin and death this upper-midwestern Lutheran can wallow in, Advent will still do. Clear cold nights with an early dusk and the weight of extra blankets on my bed, while sweet visions of Christ’s erstwhile arrival and one-day-soon return play in my head.
Just don’t insist I use these four weeks as a time for preparation. And don’t diss me for wanting to sing some Christmas carols before December 24. Stop turning the season of hope into lukewarm law with a stick of cinnamon floating in it. I refuse to celebrate “Sadvent.”
As a child I thought of Advent as a season of utter joy. My German mom made sure we maintained the tradition of an Advent Kalendar for each kid. Every morning the first order of business was to open the day’s little door flap. No toys, chocolates, or surprises behind #14, just a little picture of a toy trumpet or a wrapped gift. We could hardly wait to open the biggest door on the 24th, for it would reveal the thing it all led to: the stable, the manger, and the baby Jesus.
On December 5 we kids would clean up our snow boots (always better than shoes for their carrying capacity) and place them by the front door. During the night, St. Nikolaus would come with his helper Knecht Ruprecht and leave treats, coins, and an evergreen sprig in our boots. The morning of December 6 we’d jump out of bed and race to see what we’d gotten. It was always a foretaste of the Weihnacht feast to come.
Even before Advent began we’d have a family trek into the forests in the higher elevations of the Black Hills where we lived. There’d be a thermos of hot cocoa for the kids and a flask of peppermint schnapps for the adults. We’d collect spruce boughs and at home build an Advent wreath.
Each night we’d light one of four candles in the middle of that wreath, one more each week, with the rest of the house in darkness. An LP of German Christmas songs would play on a cheap mono record player. We’d sit on the couch and watch the candles’ flames while the strains of the Weihnachtslieder told us about the shepherds being bidden to come to Bethlehem or that the snow drifting down was a sign the Christchild was coming soon, or the bells going “klingelingeling,” or lo, how that rose was blooming.
Advent is not a season of preparation, of making yourself fit for the presence of God incarnate. It’s the season of my childhood hope and joy. The season of antici…pation. God deemed any delay in his enfleshment on account of our lack of preparation unworthy of his attention. Being ready means knowing what’s coming.
The color for Advent is blue: the color of hope and expectation. That’s why Mary is so often depicted in blue. Get it? She’s expecting.
If Jesus is indeed the same yesterday, today, and forever, everything his enfleshment brings is already assured: life, salvation, and forgiveness. There’s no preparing for it. There’s only wonder and awe and hope. The color for Advent is blue: the color of hope and expectation. That’s why Mary is so often depicted in blue. Get it? She’s expecting.
When our son was about to arrive back in the early 90s, we worked hard to put together a nursery. Our wonky parsonage had not a single square corner or plumb wall. It was silly of us to put up striped wallpaper and a border and slap on some peach-colored paint. The entire abode was askew and nothing ever looked right, but Samuel arrived in spite of the imperfection. Sama-Rama was true to his name, for God had heard us, and we could do nothing but chortle with delight and awe at his now extra-uterine presence.
How about trying this during Advent this year? Do nothing but your heart’s desire. If it trips your trigger, sing “We Three Kings,” an Epiphany hymn, to go one worse than a Christmas carol and thumb your nose at the naysayers. Put up your tree before Thanksgiving. Know that your delightful, nerdy attachment to that Christmas feeling is the antidote to “Sadvent” and worth more than all the preparation you can muster. For it is faith being drawn out of you by the one who’s come and who will come again.
If singing “Savior of the Nations Come” and “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” is your thing, go for it. Just be aware that propriety never filled a bridesmaid’s lamp. What soaks the wick and burns brightly these long nights is the fact of your bridegroom’s faithfulness. He’s come, and he’s coming again. Just sit back and imagine the gifts he’ll have for you to unwrap.
In other words, your already empty manger is ready enough.