One thing our world doesn’t do well is wait. I fall prey to it as much as the next person. I lose my temper in traffic jams. I become agitated when websites load slowly. I find ways to watch Downton Abbey before PBS gets around to showing in January. I burn my mouth on cookies straight out of the oven. I am an impatient person.
So you should be surprised that I don’t have my Christmas tree up already. But I don’t. And it’s not because I don’t love Christmas. I always laugh when people ask why I haven’t decorated or why I’m not listening to Christmas music yet.
“It’s not Christmas,” I try to point out to them.
“Oh, but I love Christmas!” they respond.
I’m not sure how to respond. I don’t? Of course I love Christmas. That doesn’t mean I don’t wait to celebrate it. We don’t wait for things because we don’t love them. We wait for them because they’re worth it.
A few years ago, I was trying to decide how to celebrate September 8, the birthday of the Blessed Mother, and I decided to treat myself to ice cream. Then I remembered I had ice cream bars in my refrigerator…and that I had eaten two the day before, when I was sitting in my apartment in a bad mood. Hm. So much for feasting on ice cream. How could I feast on ice cream when I had eaten it the day before for no good reason? I decided then that I needed to fast more!
You can never feast if you never fast. I recently learned that a certain religious order fasts the day before their founder’s feast day. A hard core fast—like the same fast they do on Good Friday. This seemed pretty odd to me, so I asked them why they would do such a thing. “So we can feast the next day!”
The Church, in her wisdom, has laid out a calendar of fasts and feasts. While we might not think of Advent as a time of fasting, it is a penitential season. The penance of Advent is the penance of a pregnancy. Any woman who has been pregnant will tell you that there is discomfort in waiting. There is anxiety in waiting. There is a feeling of “So close… but so far…”
There is also joy in waiting. The thrill of expectation. Yes, there are countless days when a pregnant woman wishes she had her newborn in her arms and it was all over. But that period of waiting has a purpose. The baby needs that time to grow. And mommy needs that time to prepare.
Advent is a microcosm of life. Our lives are one big time of waiting for Heaven. Ultimately, these eighty or ninety years are nothing compared to the life that awaits us with Him (hopefully). This life is only about the next. It’s not that we’re sitting around twiddling our thumbs while we wait. We serve Him, we love Him, and we do everything we can for Him now, so that we can join Him in the next. But this life isn’t the feast. It’s a big wait for the feast.
That’s Advent. During this season, we’re constantly reminding ourselves that we were not made for this life. We were made for the next. Whatever happens today is passing, and all that matters is whether it brings me closer or farther from Heaven.
Is it easy to postpone celebrating? Of course not. But it’s a small reminder to us that the story of my life is much bigger than my pleasure here on earth.
I’m not saying you can’t listen to Christmas music or go to Christmas parties this month. Until we train our culture that the Twelve Days of Christmas actually fall after the 25th of December, there may be some concessions we have to make. But I challenge you to find some small ways to make yourself wait. Maybe you wait to listen to Christmas music until the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Maybe you wait to decorate until Gaudete Sunday.
And once Christmas comes, don’t forget to actually celebrate it! How often our world forgets that Christmas is more than a day. Everyone probably thinks I’m crazy because I leave my Christmas decorations up until February 2, the feast of Candlemas (just like the Vatican traditionally does). I remember one person saying with astonishment, “Your tree is still up? Christmas was a month ago!” It seems that we’re okay putting the tree up a month early, but keeping it up during the Christmas season is just a little too radical.
Maybe keeping the tree up until almost Mardi Gras is a little much for you. But remember, Ordinary Time doesn’t return until after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which this liturgical year falls on January 10. Unless your tree is an Advent tree, why take it down before Christmas is over?
Happy Advent! Remember, it’s not that you don’t love Christmas. It’s that you love it so much, you’re willing to wait for it.