Advent is a Cruel Joke

Sometimes Advent seems like the cruelest of jokes.

It’s a season, we’re told, of waiting, anticipation, preparation.

And in true poetic form I’m never ready – in the frenzy of Thanksgiving and post-feast haze, it never seems like the right time to pause and ponder things in my heart about the anticipated promise of God’s Incarnation.

I’m sure some of this comes from my years as a student – the weeks leading up to Christmas often signaled the twinkle-lightsfrenetic sputtering through last days of class and finals week, and the exhausted return home, met again with schedules and people and meals and parties. Silent Night and Peace on Earth, indeed. By the time academic life calmed down enough to think past due dates and word counts, Advent was pretty much a shortened afterthought. At best.

Much of that rhythm has carried over into this life outside the academic calendar. Often we feel lucky just to have made through Thanksgiving. Likely I do not need to recite the tired litany of all the ways that December is anything but a quiet, reflective, patient time of waiting – instead it is (of course, you know how the song goes) a time of presents, shopping, sales, parties, cookies, socials, gift exchanges, concerts, traveling.

Maybe, too, I can blame the shorter days, the sun that often hides behind clouds, the dropping temperatures for some of my exhaustion and restlessness that lurks around the waning weeks of the year.

Maybe.

Whatever it is, whatever the rhythm of these weeks, what I feel for certain is that I have not felt this impatient, restless or anxious in a long time. I shared as much on facebook, a comment that seemingly resonated with a good number of people (especially my minister friends).

And it is Advent.

And I am pushing back with every fiber of my being against anything resembling preparation, waiting, perspective, letting go, easing my grip.

I was doing some reading about Advent (it is part of the job, after all). One thing I read caused me to do some mental gymnastics. We jump so quickly to talk about Advent as preparation for a baby to be born – we are waiting for the Baby Jesus. Which is all well and good and appropriate from a storytelling (and perhaps even decorating) point of view. But the truth for Christians in the twenty-first century (and the past twenty centuries) is that Jesus has already been born. I read this:

Advent and Christmas become time machines, taking us back to the days before the Incarnation; and so we focus on the Nativity to the exclusion of everything else. Gone is the notion that we are in the ‘mean time’ between the Incarnation and the Eschaton. Gone is the opportunity for our honest cry that things are not as God has promised they would be. Gone is the notion that God comes to us here and now, where we are, in our rush to pretend our way back to ‘when Jesus was alive.’”[1]

It’s true that Advent is time of preparation. But not just for a baby. We are preparing for the coming of Christ – but not in infant form. Or at least not in infant form only.  The coming of Christ is about Incarnation – Emmanuel – God with us. At Christmas we celebrate the miraculous incarnation of God, who came to us as a baby. But Advent is also about waiting for Incarnation in so many other ways – in the life of Jesus, in his obedience to his ministry and call unto death. And now that we live in a world that awaits the ultimate fulfillment – the second coming – Advent is also about waiting in an Eschatological sense. We live and move and have our being in a world that both has known Jesus and yet seems not to know Jesus at all.

The waiting and preparation and patience that are the focus of Advent are not just about a baby who has already come. Instead it is greater – in our waiting to place the child in the manger, we are called to be mindful of all the other ways our spirits are restless and waiting – for God’s Kingdom, for reconciliation, for peace, for joy, for hope, for love.

My own impatience and restlessness persist this season. My own exhaustion continues – the darkness that stretches longer and longer conflict with my schedule that gets busier and busier. If I am honest, it all feeds a cycle of anxiety.

I have decided that that is okay.

I have decided to let Advent be a season of grace.

I have decided to give myself permission to be impatient. I have decided to give myself permission to feel restless. I have decided to forgive myself for my exhaustion.

The reality is that, in the end, everything is temporary. (As my mom reminded us over Thanksgiving, we’re all dying. Mom made a funny. Also true.) All of life is a sequence of transition, and I doubt any of us ever feel like we are completely stable and done. Do we ever feel – in the moment anyway – that we are where we will be? It is true that there are big transitions – obvious transitions – moving, changing jobs, changing relationships, becoming a parent, grieving deaths of loved ones – but the truth of life is that we are always transitioning from, and transitioning into. There is theological truth in that we are always becoming.

My Advent grace this year is about embracing the ways that I continue to wait, and hope, and prepare, and anticipate what is to come.  There are many ways that I need to remember the life that is already and always around me. But I will not deny the impatience and restlessness that I feel. My very mundane and (often) petty sense of anticipation and impatience of what is not yet realized echoes the theological truth of life in the already come Christ and the not-yet realized Kingdom.

The Baby has already been born. We already know the powerful truth of God’s incarnation. And yet. The fulfillment has not yet come. God’s peace and justice are not yet realized. And still we hope. With hope we wait to know in our own lives – mundane and all – the very real truth of God’s love, peace, and joy.


[1] Mark Oldenburg

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One thought on “Advent is a Cruel Joke

  1. We’re discovering that cancer during Advent leaves for time for silence; more time for thinking, and more time for waiting. It slows life together way down.

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