The Aptness of Advent

This is it. 2020 is the year Advent wins out against the commercial Christmas we’ve all grown up with, at least for this round. How are we going to gather to rock around the Christmas tree? Is it possible for much of anyone to sing without irony this year:

With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all

I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams. That’s for sure and certain.

This is the December we hunker down, wipe our calendars clear of social engagements. We don’t need to dodge the December 5 Christmas party, don’t have to explain to well-meaning coworkers that it’s not Christmas yet. Instead, we have no excuse not to dive deep into what patient waiting means, in both the liturgical and communal senses.

In this way, Catholics and other liturgical Christians have an edge over non-liturgical Christians and secular people going in to this strange, strange December. We have, though we may not personally have plumbed its depths, a rich history of stillness, preparation, and patient suffering in our tradition of Advent.

Without the premature feasts of a normal December party season, can we incorporate fasting into our observance of Advent this year, directing our prayers to any one of the facets of suffering we see more clearly in the pandemic-wracked world this year? Can we use time freed from extracurriculars and commutes to adopt a new prayer practice or reading plan? Without the jangle of “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” trailing us from our last Target run, can we learn the haunting strains of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”?

That doesn’t mean we have to pivot to an Advent all sackcloth and ashes, though. Instead, we can prepare with penitence, yes, but also hope, for the coming of our King. O come, o come Emmanuel. We feel captive this year for sure, trapped in our homes as cold weather and darkness and disease close in. But we must remember that rescue will come, resolving, as best we can, to make [our] house fair as you are able / trim the hearth and set the table.

How do we take the opportunity to critique our usual December flurry, while still preparing steadily for the joy of the 25th? It will take effort and look different for each household. The pensive, hopeful mood of Advent will come easily to many of us this year, but the jubilant mood of Christmastide may require effort without the usual signposts of parties and shopping mall music, family gatherings and perhaps even Mass. Christmas cards will remind those we haven’t seen for months that they are still loved. The intentional introduction of Advent reading, crafting, and baking into our busy rhythm of remote (or home-) schooling will prepare the hearts of our children. The lights we string around our homes will point to the hope in our hearts, glittering through the interminable nights. Can we look to Christians throughout time, from the early church to persecuted Christians in corners of the world today, who cling fast to the truth as the celebrate, hushed and alone, in their own humble way?

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.

Related further reading: The Homely Hours’ exhaustive collection of Advent hymns; me talking about Christmas cards and my past thoughts on Advent.

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