I was chatting with a dear friend at a St. Nick’s party last night (sporting purple in honor of Advent because I’m cool like that) when my friend stopped mid sentence, said, “Wait a second. I have to change the song,” and disappeared into the crowd.
At this point, the conversation was louder than the music, so I couldn’t hear the song. Was it inappropriate? I didn’t think Christina had Ludacris on her ipod. A Christmas song that she had to change because it was Advent, though? Much more likely. I asked her when she came back.
“No, it was just too slow.” Then she looked a little sheepish. “I listen to Christmas music in Advent–I’m not good about that.”
Now I’ve taken many a stand against Christmas music during Advent, but it hit me in that moment that there isn’t anything “good” about abstaining from Christmas until Christmas. I don’t hold off on “O Holy Night” as a sacrifice, I do it because I want to live in the longing. I love the ache and hope and anticipation of Advent and if I start celebrating Christmas early I lose that. I’m a melancholic and I don’t want to skip to the joy because for me joy is nothing without the pain that precedes it.
But Christina’s a sanguine. She needs that Christmas joy in early Advent because starting to celebrate Christmas is what prepares her to celebrate Christmas. For her, baking Christmas cookies, hanging lights, and listening to “Silent Night” is a way of preparing herself for the day that she knows hasn’t yet come.
It’s the difference between fasting before a feast and getting a foretaste by sampling the dishes. They’re both about building the excitement and anticipation. Neither one is wrong.
So in the midst of all these posts about what to do during Advent (and in lieu of the one I’ve been planning all week), I just want to tell you that you’re doing it right. If you’re spending a little extra time in prayer, finding a little extra silence, and living Advent in the way that brings you closest to Christ, you’ve got it. Rock out to Christmas music 24-7 or turn your radio off for the next 24 days–I won’t judge. Go to every Christmas party in town or claim a religious obligation to stay home–whatever floats your boat. Replace all your children’s books with nativity stories and their toys with nativity toys or cut the board books in half so they’ve only got Mary’s journey and not the nativity itself. Do Santa or St. Nick or Epiphany or no gifts at all. As long as it’s about Jesus, ain’t nothing wrong with a little bit of the secular.
Just don’t stress. Don’t feel like you have to sing the Advent songs and do the Advent crafts and bake the Advent bread.1 Don’t feel like you have to shop till you drop or wear a Santa hat all month. The point here is to find some stillness in the cold dim of winter and to wait for the Lord.
Quit worrying about what you ought to be doing for Christmas or Advent or the end of the semester or whatever has you running around a chicken with your head cut off in this season of “silence.” Instead, take 5 minutes in prayer to ask the Lord what will be best for you and your family. Ask what prayer and reading and songs and traditions and festivities will prepare you to welcome him in time and in eternity. Cut whatever you have to cut to make room for Christ.
But don’t do it for the sake of “doing it right.” If meditating on “mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die” makes you fall more in love with Christ, please sing Christmas carols! Don’t deny yourself what brings you to Christ for the sake of being liturgically appropriate. If singing Christmas carols now will make you sick of them when the time comes, shut your mouth! Don’t deny yourself what brings you to Christ for the sake of being culturally appropriate.
It’s easy, when you’re trying to be a saint, to think that the harder something is, the better it is for you. Advent’s not like that. It’s not about superhuman fasting or adoration marathons. Save your windsprints up Calvary for Lent–Advent is about the slow walk to Bethlehem with Mary. And if you want to walk joyfully, singing about the king to be born, go for it. If you want to walk in wonder and awe, more power to you. If you want to cheer or be silent or shop for meaningful gifts or bake or read or whatever opens your heart to the Christ child, it’s all fine.
Because Advent isn’t about penance–not the way Lent is, anyway. Advent is about preparation. It’s about making room in our hearts for our infant King. It’s about clearing out the noise and the mess and becoming like little children again.
Maybe for you, that’s an Advent wreath and a daily holy hour and all “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” all the time. Maybe it’s baking Christmas cookies, decorating the house, and wishing everyone a merry Christmas. In the grand scheme of salvation, it doesn’t matter that your candles are the right color or your novena starts on the right day or even that your favorite Christmas song is secretly “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”2 Quit worrying about what you’re supposed to be doing on this one and just be still and know that he is God. That’s really all there is to it.