By Beregond (aka Christopher Woods), November 14, 2017
Word count: 1268
Summary: An essay on the importance of Advent, from both Eastern and Western perspectives
Bilbo Baggins, that renowned hobbit of old, once said that he felt stretched, like too little butter spread across too much bread. No one would ever enjoy such a slice of bread. The proportion isn’t right at all. There is too much graininess, too much dryness, not enough of that wonderful buttery beauty. (And yes, we are assuming that it’s only a mediocre slice of bread.) In short, the essence of bread and butter has been lost. It is no longer bread and butter, but rather BREAD and butter. A similar thing is now happening, and has been happening, with the attitude toward the holiday season, toward Christmas. This can partly be seen through the very reluctance to name Christmas itself, preferring such phrases as “Xmas” and “holiday season.” Such reluctance is at once clear: You cannot mention Christmas without mentioning Christ. Christ is literally fused within the word, in a way that the secular society positively (or negatively, perhaps?) detests. So the natural response is, of course, to de-emphasize Christ as much as possible. Spread the festive season across two months so that one day doesn’t have so much priority over the rest. Materialize everything, naturally. But before any of this, ensure the total eradication of Advent.
Walk into a store or restaurant this time of year, and you’ll hear Christmas music. Go to a concert, and the majority of music will be Christmas-related. Drive along, and you’ll see Christmas decorations in the windows of shops and houses, peppermint canes lining the driveways, and the trees laden with lights rather than leaves. Many commercials mention Christmas in one way or another, and popular TV shows put on a Christmas-themed special episode. Thousands of years ago, pagans would have feasts that lasted for a couple of weeks; now, secularists have extended Christmas to a length of two months. A satiric calendar might read, “September, October, Christmas, January,” and so on. There is more Christmas now than ever before, but it is also perhaps less understood than ever before. It seems that perhaps the secular plan has been accomplished, and “Christmas” has effectively overrun Advent, not to mention Thanksgiving!
And yet, even many good Christians I know are perfectly content with this state of affairs. They love to sing Christmas songs, not only weeks before December 25th, but also any time during the year. So you might also be asking me right now: “Is there a problem?” By golly, yes, there’s a problem! This secular undermining has almost successfully separated Christ from Christmas through its intense materialization and expansion. Christ is no longer the first thing that comes into people’s minds upon hearing “Christmas,” but rather “lights,” “decorations,” and “presents” because these, while enjoyable, have become the focus of Christmas.
Now, don’t get me wrong! I myself immensely enjoy the lights, the decorations, and the presents that come every year. What I am advocating is a return of everything to their proper place, a proper understanding of Christmas tradition in the Christian light. And that starts with the return—or perhaps resurrection, at this point—of Advent. That time of preparation before Christmas, four weeks for the Catholics and Protestants, six for the Eastern Churches, where it is called Philip’s Fast, or the Nativity Fast. What this time of preparation does for us is, in short, one of the most beautiful miracles. It gives us deeper understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation by redirecting our attention from the materialistic spectacle to the benevolence and love of God. And in the wonderful, beautiful hymns for Advent from both East and West, it heightens the Christmas feast by building up the expectation.
Let me use another analogy: skipping Advent and going right to Christmas is like skipping dinner and going right to the German triple-chocolate cake. And then eating nothing but that cake for two months straight, as the secular world is doing. But they aren’t even eating a good cake, having ruined it with the wrong proportions of ingredients! The result? As you might expect: the secular world is terribly, terribly sick. Looking at one of my favorite Western Advent hymns, we begin to see this entire season in the proper light:
Long is our winter,
Dark is our night.
O come, set us free,
O saving Light.
It is simple, short, but beautiful. It recognizes our sinfulness, brought about by the wiles of the devil, and expresses the intense longing for Christ, the Light of the World, the only one who can effectively and permanently save us.
Now for an example from the East:
Truly, Zion’s people,
Now you shall weep no more.
God has heard your crying,
And will open Heaven’s door.
Liberty for captives!
Good news for the outcast!
Comfort for the mourners!
Redemption for the lost!
Although but a poor English translation from the original Old Slavonic, this hymn still has so much to offer. It shows the everlasting hope of those who trust in God, Zion’s people. We know our sinfulness, and weep in the knowledge of having displeased God. But God has hearkened to us, and will send his only Son to once more admit mortals into Heaven. The coming of Christ in the Incarnation will release the captives of Satan, bring back the outcast into the fold of the Good Shepherd, make those mourning for their sins dance with the joy of salvation—in short, bring about redemption for all of us, lost.
You wonder at my use of tense! “Will release, will bring back, will make, will bring about;” yet this is the proper way to do it. God exists outside of time, so from his perspective, everything is now. We expect the coming of Christ, because he hasn’t been born yet—not until Christmas Day! We can’t celebrate something that hasn’t quite yet happened. Such an action would be similar to celebrating your favorite team winning the championship when it’s only halfway through the season. A gross miscalculation, especially should your favorite team end up not going all the way. Yes, Christ was born two thousand years ago, give or take a few. But in the mind of God, who is without beginning or end, two thousand years is an incredibly trivial amount of time. Everything is now—so don’t sing those Christmas carols yet! Now is the time for preparation. The time for feasting will come. It seems a paradox; if everything is now, why must we wait? Because everything is now, the moment we celebrate is the exact same moment of what we are celebrating. So on Christmas, not only do we worship Christ and remember the shepherds and wise men, we are also present with the shepherds and wise men worshipping Christ at the exact same moment. That is why we must wait. The time has not yet come. If we celebrate Christmas now, in the middle of Advent, we would have our liturgical calendars all topsy-turvy. It shouldn’t be done, but it is what too many people are doing. There is a time for Christmas, but now is the time for preparation.
The importance of preparation cannot be stressed enough in this day and age. Part of preparing for Christmas is meditation on God’s love for us, prayer, and fasting. Yes, of course it takes effort. We must re-prioritize our life, so that we can fully appreciate everything Christmas has to offer. Stop running around everywhere all day, dropping into bed completely exhausted. Stop listening to the secular society and buy everything you think would make for a “perfect” Christmas. Stand still! And prepare for the Lord, for He comes.