Then live Advent.
“Advent is a discipline: a way of forming anticipation and channeling it toward its goal,” Joseph Bottum writes in his beautiful new book, The Christmas Plains.
“Nothing we do can earn us the gift of Christmas, any more than Lent wins us Easter. But a season of contrition and sacrifice prepares us to understand and feel something about just how great the gift is when at last the day itself arrives,” he observes.
By not fully embracing the liturgical routines of Advent, we’re at a loss — feeling sadness about days gone by without living the actual contrition of Advent.
Meanwhile, he adds: “weirdly, the forward-looking parts of Advent have also escaped the discipline of the season. In certain ways, the season has become little except anticipation—anticipation run amuck, like children so sick with expectation that the reality can never be satisfying when it finally arrives.”
This surely sounds familiar: “the endless roar of untethered Christmas anticipation is close to drowning out the disciplined anticipation of Advent,” Bottum writes. “And when Christmas itself arrives, it has begun to seem a day not all that different from any other. Oh, yes, church and home to a big dinner. Presents for the children. A set of decorations. But nothing special, really.”
Live an Advent life this month! For, as Bottum points out:
This is what Advent, rightly kept, would halt—the thing, in fact, Advent is designed to prevent. Through all the preparatory readings, through all the genealogical Jesse trees, the somber candles on the wreaths, the vigils, and the hymns, Advent keeps Christmas on Christmas Day: a fulfillment, a perfection and completion, of what had gone before. I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh.