I want it to be Christmas so badly.
I have never wanted it to be Christmas so much in my whole life.
And we have to wait.
This Sunday is the last week of Ordinary Time, which means we’ve successfully navigated the longest liturgical season that is so. totally. ordinary. Since July, we’re been trudging through spiritual disciplines on this column, and I’m just really, really ready for Christmas.
Ordinary Time is the longest season in the Church calendar, a reminder that most of our spiritual life isn’t particularly flashy, but a series of daily choices to be faithful to what is in front of us.
I think this might be the most difficult part of the Christian life. Prioritizing faithfulness over success can feel wearying. – Pilgrim Joy in Ordinary Time
Aren’t we done with the exhausting daily disciplines of Ordinary Time yet? Can’t it be the Christmas season?
Not quite yet.
Can We Start Christmas Early?
I loved Christmas as a kid, but when you spend most of your adult life in school, Christmas feels more like being ambushed by judgmental elves than a season of eager expectation. You flail through a month of finals and tests, and suddenly, BAM! It’s six days before Christmas, and you haven’t bought a single gift or put up a single ornament. SURPRISE Y’ALL!
This year, though, my schedule has finally hit something that a generous observer would call routine (I work in a bar, so this is a miracle of Biblical proportions). I started scanning the holiday aisle at Goodwill in October, and started driving by the janky gas station Christmas tree sellers (“are they open yet??”) in early November. And one grey Saturday, three weeks ago, I pulled out every Christmas decoration I own – a Yankee candle, two strands of colored fairy lights, and a Nativity set – and told myself Twitter judgment be damned, if I want to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving, I’ll decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving!
I turned on my Christmas music, lit the candle, wrapped the lights around my balcony, arranged my Nativity on my bookcase – and felt terrible.
Joseph, the serious, ethical, Keeper of the “Shoulds”, was watching me with that “I’m not mad I’m just disappointed” face.
It’s not time for Christmas yet.
We’ve got to wait just a little bit longer.
It’s not just having my adultness together that leaving me hungry for a peppermint mocha latte and Mariah Carey. The world feels heavy and exhausting, and I just want it to be cozy, to put marshmallows in my hot chocolate and curl up with A Muppet Christmas Carol. I want to be at Christmas Eve services full of candles circling the church building and casting half-light on the faces of my church family. I want to sing a thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices!
All my hustling to make Christmas come a little bit earlier is just my weary bones wanting that thrill of hope.
And God says,
Advent Wreaths and Christmas Countdowns
The Church is constantly trying to skip Advent, which starts this year on December 2nd. Everyone wants to sing Christmas carols, and put up Christmas trees, and hop straight from Ordinary Time to the Christmas season. The Liturgical calendar is clear, though. Advent first. And then Christmas.
You don’t get to celebrate Christmas, the wise church elders tell us, unless you’ve waited sufficiently first.
Pastors and seminarians can get very self-righteous about “not skipping Advent” (want to see a group of hysterical seminarians? Suggest singing Christmas carols in church before Christmas Day). I don’t want to add another “should” to a time of year when we’re particularly hard on ourselves, but I do want to invite you – not admonish you – to practice some Advent waiting this year, instead of barrelling headlong right from Ordinary Time to the celebration of Christmas.
In Advent, we’re forced sit in our restless bodies, and notice our discomfort at anything that doesn’t happen right away. Advent asks us to look at the suffering of the world and not shove it aside, paint over it, throw a Christian cliche on top of it. The secular Christmas season is all about pretending that everything is good, fine, cheerful, and romantic, but the Christian Advent season comes back again and again to the reality that it is not OK, that there is sorrow and pain and ugliness in the world, and –
it is not fixed yet.
God, it’s uncomfortable to sit with unresolved waiting. It’s uncomfortable to mourn with a world that isn’t right, that is painful, unjust, twisted, filled with all kinds of darkness. It’s painful to join our siblings in their suffering and not just slap “everything happens for a reason!” or “God is good, all the time!” on top of it. It’s really hard to let Advent be Advent, instead of pretending it’s Christmas.
Advent invites us to sit with the uncomfortable reality that Jesus hasn’t fixed everything yet.
Christian theology says that we live in the “already and not yet,” where Jesus has come but the world isn’t quite right yet. Christians spend a helluva lot of time papering over suffering and pretending that everything is just fine. It is not all fine, Advent yells at us all. It is pretty terrible. And you can’t just put up a Christmas tree and make it be good. You can’t just pretend the waiting isn’t happening, and make it go away.
You can’t just skip Advent.
Well, you can skip it. You can choose to pretend it doesn’t exist. You can live your life in perpetual Christmas celebration, always acting like there’s no suffering, or acting like only good things happen, or acting like the world isn’t really very unjust or in pain. But that will wear you very, very thin, loves. It will burn you out, and you’ll always know that it isn’t quite true. You’ll lose your empathy, and lose your ability to listen to the pain in your own soul. The more you try to rush past suffering, the more you’ll suffer. We sit in the waiting of Advent because our souls really, really need to learn how to sit still in the discomfort of not. quite. yet. We are just like those “people walking in darkness,” in the moment before they “see a great light.” Waiting for the light in deep hope isn’t the same as pretending the light is already here.
As we round the corner to Advent, take some time to think about how you can practice Advent, and not just Christmas, this year. Sit in the darkness. It’s OK. The world is suffering whether we look at it or not.
This year, don’t skip to “everything is fine.” Practice the waiting. Trust the liturgical seasons to lead us wisely and bravely through the spiritual discipline of waiting and expectation this year. Trust Advent.
Not yet. But soon.