First Advent and first candle is litphoto © 2007 Per Ola Wiberg | more info (via: Wylio)The day after Thanksgiving, and not a day sooner, we started playing Christmas music at Z. When I tell people this, I usually find one of two reactions. The first (and rarest) is excitement for that once a year switch in the music. The second is usually an embarrassed, cringy kind of expression, followed with, “Yeah, I know. I turned it off.”

Yesterday, as I was sitting in the dentist chair waiting for my lip to go numb, my dentist’s assistant (who happens to be a listener) asked how things were going at work. I told her about the Fundraiser, and how busy things had been, and when I mentioned Christmas music, she gave me a variation of Reaction #2 that stuck with me. “I know…. I love it, but I’m just not ready for it. Maybe in a couple weeks. But not now.”

It stuck with me, mostly because I’ve been catching myself really looking forward to the Christmas season. I even pulled out a couple of Christmas CDs the week or two before Thanksgiving, just for a taste, and Monday I couldn’t wait to put out my little desk decorations. I’ve never been more ready. And yet, for most of us, it’s something to dread. Not the Day necessarily, but the stuff in between that gets in the way. There is movement and little time to feel the waiting.

After all, waiting is a foreign concept to a plugged-in, on-demand world. Could this be why the early signs of Christmas decorations and music cause us stress? That we know there are lists to check, gifts to buy, the constant blocks of time to push on through?

Somewhere along the way, we forgot how to wait. I forgot how to wait. And that’s why Advent matters.

Until recently, I’ve known very little about whens and whys of the liturgical calendar, but I do remember Advent calendars with their 25 little doors to represent each day in December. As a kid, I thought this was the best idea for counting down to the big day… I remember the wait seemed so much longer, that endless, restless, eager anticipation that I’m sure had more to do with presents than piety. Even in “secular” Christmas songs, you hear it. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” they say… “please Christmas, don’t be late.” You hear the world pining for something big, grand, joyous.

But this is bigger.

It’s an entire creation groaning with the weight of captivity.

A nation waiting for prophecies made real.

Broken hearts crying for rescue.

A Messiah. Come to ransom the mourning in a mysterious, frail, all too human form.

This year, I’m trying to be still, to wait, to remember. I hear the silent longing in the strains of the music, see the first signs of decorated neighborhoods as if they’re lighting the way. Christmas is not just about a day, but the days before, a great sadness and a greater joy, and this paradox of hope in the in-between is where it comes alive.

I just started reading a Fredrick Buechener devotional called Listening to Your Life. It’s a daily reader (something I’ve always been terrible at sticking with), but I figured starting at the back of the book with December might yield some little pockets of peace in the Christmas season. So glad I did. Closing with some thoughts on Advent from the December 1st reading:

“‘Advent’ means ‘coming’ of course, and the promise of Advent is that what is coming is an unimaginable invasion… An invasion of holiness. That is what Advent is about…

“In the meantime, we are in the dark, and the dark, God knows, is also in us. We watch and wait for a holiness to heal and hallow us, to liberate us from the dark. Advent is like the hush in a theater just before the curtain rises. It is like the hazy ring around the winter moon that means the coming of snow which will turn the night to silver. Soon. But for the time being, our time, darkness is where we are.”

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts on Advent, remembrance, and waiting throughout this month. I have so much more to say than will fit in a blog post short enough for people to actually read! :) But your turn: What does Advent mean to you? Do you observe the weeks before Christmas in any special way?