The older I get the more I am amazed at how quickly time passes. Once again I can’t believe that Christmas is so close. But it has not always been like this for me. When I was a kid it seemed like Christmas was never going to come. The waiting and anxiety were almost painful. I remember Christmas Eve being particularly taxing. It was hard to fall asleep. All I wanted was for Christmas to come.
While not exactly a one-to-one correspondence, this is how we should feel during Advent. During Advent we experience the promise and fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan in the person and incarnation of Jesus. During Advent we look forward, too; longing and hoping and waiting for the second coming of Christ.
The anxious waiting of Advent is only intensified on this fourth and final Sunday.
The world around us simply cannot wait for Christmas to get here. Decorations for the season have been on sale in stores since September. By now most gifts have been purchased, some already presented, and a few undoubtedly used up or returned to the store for exchange. Santa Claus appeared in the flesh at least a month ago…But God plays a waiting game, keeping us on our tiptoes (Stookey, Calendar, 125).
So we find ourselves on our tiptoes, meditating and longing for the coming of Christ. This posture of waiting and hoping reminds us that Advent is not Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the fulfillment of Advent. Advent is the longing for that fulfillment. Thus Robert Webber writes,
Advent spirituality is not a time to meditate on the actual birth of Christ. According to tradition, we ought not to sing Christmas carols until Christmas itself, for Advent is not a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the manger but a time to long for the coming of the Savior. The appropriate sense of this season is captured in the pleading of “O Come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel” (Ancient-Future Time, 51).
The last couple of weeks I have mentioned how the cultural calendar is at odds with the church calendar. In light of what Webber has said, though, it would seem that the cultural calendar has almost entirely swallowed up and supplanted the church calendar. I say this because most evangelical churches will celebrate Christmas this Sunday. But today is not Christmas. That’s not until Wednesday. Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent.
The practice of the church celebrating Christmas before it actually comes most certainly is a manifestation that the church has almost entirely become like the world. Worldliness has crept in, no, it has been welcomed. Not only is the practice of the church celebrating Christmas before it actually comes, it is also a demonstration of the immaturity of the church. She is not mature, strong and patient. Rather, like a small child she simply cannot wait. She is impatient.
By celebrating Advent and waiting until Christmas to celebrate Christmas we say to the world that we cannot and we will not be conformed to your liturgy. We march to a different drum.