Growing up in America with a Scottish mother can be difficult at times. The other kids at school ask questions like, “Why does your mom talk funny?” Your mother signs notes or presents, “Mum” rather than “Mom” as all the other mothers spell it. You use strange words like “wee” and “shoogly” that cause eyebrows to raise: “What did you say, son?” And pertinent to this time of year, you find yourself saying, “Happy Christmas” rather than the American standard “Merry Christmas.” Life is just so tough.
But what one hears rarely in either Scotland or America is “Happy Advent” (or “Merry Advent,” take your pick.) In these days when Christmas is not celebrated as a holiday, a holy day, but a season of consumption from late October through early January, it’s easy to be crushed under the Christmas rush without stopping to consider the season of Advent.
The evangelist writes that John the Baptized announced this time of waiting, of looking-forward, of pointing towards Jesus.
There was a man sent from God,
whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He himself was not the light,
but he came to testify to the light. (John 1:6-8)
John wasn’t the sort of soul who would celebrate Christmas from Thanksgiving forward, he pointed, he witnessed, he testified to the light still to come. John may have cried, “repent,” or “prepare,” and today might even exclaim “Happy Advent” if he were in a good mood, but John the Baptist would never wish a pre-mature Merry Christmas.
So for us, practically speaking, what would saying “Happy Advent” accomplish besides drawing strange looks and awkward smiles? It’s difficult to say, of course, but when I say, “Happy Advent” I am in part:
- reminding myself and others that God’s work is not yet complete: Jesus is coming to guide our feet in the way of peace, to give light to those who sit in darkness and food to the hungry, to save us that we might praise him forever (Luke 1:70-79).
- participating in a tiny anti-idolatry campaign, reminding myself and others that the season is about waiting in hope for Jesus, not buying the perfect gifts
- reminding myself and others to reflect on the past year, to give thanks to God but also to consider how to live more faithfully
- testifying that I am waiting with eager longing for God to reveal God’s ultimate glory (Rom. 8:19-20)
Now I don’t expect everyone to send out Advent cards this year, or to make Advent pie, or hold Advent parties (though they are fun). Even so, as we participate in the cultural rituals of the season, we would also do well to recall the wisdom of the church and not skip over Advent. After all, my mother always says, “A good Advent brings a better Christmastide” (well, she doesn’t exactly say that but she might, and I thought it ended the article perfectly).