A common complaint among grown-ups is the loss of Christmas magic. We see this trope in the plots of beloved Christmas movies, and many of us feel it in our own hearts. As adults, we’ve pulled back the curtain on Santa’s workshop and found only ourselves and our worn-out credit cards. Plus, the longer we live, the more personal loss we rack up. Holidays get harder as loved ones leave or change or die. And on top of all that, our relationship to Christianity often changes as we age, as childlike faith turns into something more complicated, fraught with baggage. How can we hope to reclaim the wonder of the season?
For me, the solution to this Christmas-time malaise has come in an unlikely package: the practice of Advent.
Those like me who were raised in evangelical churches may not understand Advent. We’ve written about it at TTC here and here, but briefly, Advent means “coming,” and it is a period of anticipation and preparation both for the celebration of Christ’s first coming and in expectation of his second coming. I’ve noticed a growing trend among non-liturgical types to embrace Advent, and this is one trend I encourage you to join if you haven’t yet. Here are five reasons why recovering Advent may help you recover that lost Christmas spirit.
Advent emphasizes silence and contemplation
In a season characterized by completely booked schedules, noise, parties, and the overwhelming pressure to get all the to-dos off our lists before year’s end, Advent provides space for silence and stillness. The common practices of Advent, like reading scripture passages about waiting and longing for the Messiah, or pausing to light a candle each evening in anticipation of the true Light of the world, are practices that invite us to “rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.” Make no mistake: these are spiritual disciplines. It isn’t easy to be still and quiet in this season of busyness, but incorporating some Advent practices into your holiday routines can provide a built-in pause button in the midst of the craziness. And in that pause, we may just hear angels.
Advent emphasizes repentance and spiritual preparation.
Closely related to Advent’s cultivation of silence is Advent’s emphasis on repentance. Because Advent is also connected to Christ’s second coming, a key practice of Advent is self-examination, repentance and personal preparation. As such, Advent issues the exhortation of the beloved Christmas hymn: “Let every heart prepare him room…” When we enter into the Christmas season without making that crucial space for Christ through a repentant heart, it can be hard to feel or fully appreciate Christ’s presence. But the rhythms and prayers of Advent incorporate confession and repentance, so that we may each greet the Christ-child with an open heart.
Advent makes space for longing and lament
As a musician, I often hear people’s confessions of their favorite Christmas song, and the song folks mention over and over again is “O Holy Night.” I think this carol is so popular because both words and music emphasize a shift from “the world in sin and error pining” to “a thrill of hope,” or from “chains” to the end of “all oppression.” In other words, the song doesn’t jump straight into jollity; it lets the listener feel the pain of the fallen world, so that the hope found in Christ becomes all the sweeter.
Advent, with its remembrance of Israel’s deep longing and sorrowful sojourn through darkness, provides an opportunity to be honest about our own pain and longing as we await Christ’s return to and healing of our world. For me, Christmas without Advent often rings hollow. That headlong rush into celebration often feels fake with so much pain in the world. But Advent allows us to acknowledge and feel that pain, making the joy of Christ’s miraculous incarnation even more amazing.
Advent gives us grown-ups a sense of anticipation and excitement
Just like waiting for Santa, Advent comes with its own sense of expectation. As we light a new candle each week in the count-down to lighting the Christ candle, we rehearse the sense of joy and anticipation that many of us lost once we moved past the age of Christmas morning surprises. Now, I’m not suggesting that you have to postpone setting up your tree until Christmas Eve or wait to listen to Christmas music, but even small Advent practices can help build anticipation. For example, I enjoy holding off on my most festive holiday outfits until the last couple of weeks of Advent, favoring the traditional Advent colors of blue and purple as outer reminders to myself to quiet my heart and wait for the coming King. Because I love clothes, putting off wearing my favorite holiday threads builds my excitement for them.
Observing Advent means a longer overall Christmas season
With the observation of Advent, Christmas officially begins on Christmas day and continues for 12 days until Epiphany. When we delay even some of our partying by practicing Advent, we can avoid some of those post-Christmas blues by continuing to bask in the wonder of Christmas for twelve more days. Now, you have an excuse to keep the tree up a little longer!
If you need some suggestions for how to bring a little Advent into your life, see some reading ideas here and some general ideas for how to incorporate Advent practices into your family’s Christmas traditions from Advent Conspiracy
Have a blessed Advent and Merry Christmas, and let every heart prepare him room.