The season of Advent in Christianity was originally a period of fasting and introspection much like Lent. It was a time to reflect on the second coming of Christ and how we should prepare for this momentous event.
Somehow, as time went on, the season of Advent has become a preparation for the coming of the birth of Jesus. With the addition of all the hoopla surrounding Christmas, Advent has become more of a time of expectation of gifts, festivities and parties. The wait for the birth of Jesus, although still emphasized in most churches, has been pushed to the background while trees, lavish decorations, and extravagant gifts are what are emphasized in most people’s daily activities leading up to Christmas. The hubbub surrounding Christmas has made this time of the year one of the most frantic and stressful times.
Where is the introspection, the fasting, and the contemplation of the coming of Jesus? Both as a vulnerable baby born in poverty and the return to fully establish his reign in the new heaven and new earth? Where is the contemplation of God’s justice, the real purpose of Jesus’ incarnation?
When our family lived in Mexico, we were invited to take part in a traditional Mexican Christmas celebration, and I found the contrast to our own traditions to be starkly ironic. The main focus was on Christmas Eve. After reenacting the story of Mary and Joseph looking for lodging, called a “posada,” the extended family ate a traditional meal of tamales and hot chocolate. At the stroke of midnight, the head of the family proposed a toast to everyone and stated: “the God-child has arrived.” At this point, the baby Jesus was placed in the nativity scene for the first time. Children celebrated Jesus’ arrival.
In our own celebrations, on Christmas Eve, children wait for the arrival of Santa Claus. While the excitement among children in Mexico is on who will be the one to place the baby Jesus in the manger, in US America, children are excited about Santa Claus bringing them gifts. Which tradition is more faithful to the spirit of Advent?
In our culture, is it possible to slow down during Advent instead of speeding up? Is it possible to focus on Jesus rather than on decorations, gifts and Santa Claus? Is it possible to spend time in contemplation, silence and fasting instead of scurrying hither and yon to keep up with the neighbors’ extravagance? Is it possible to focus on justice for all, the true message of Christmas rather than what I and my family can get out of the season?
I’ve always wondered how we can sing the words of the traditional Advent song (and many others) “Hark the Glad Sound” without feeling remorse at our blindness to the true message of what we are waiting for during Advent: “His silver trumpets publish loud, The jub’lee of the Lord, Our debts are all remitted now, Our heritage restored.” Jubilee is the time when the inequities and injustice are overturned and God’s justice is restored. This is Advent. This is good news for the poor.
What are you giving up for Advent?