Unfortunately, this will be more of a reflection than a prompt for a discussion.  So I will put the question first, and then offer a meditation.  What are your communities doing for Advent?

In front of the administrative building here at Catholic University sits a nativity.  As a group of us walked in front of it my friend, a liturgical scholar,  quipped “Baby Jesus is not here yet!”  For a second, I had to think, but I soon realized what he was saying.  “Oh, since its Advent and not yet Christmas.”

Though it might sound like an academic dismissal of a common practice, there is an element of truth to his observation.  Culturally, we really do not prepare for Christmas.  The turkey barely cools on the Thanksgiving table and advertisements tell us its Christmas time.  So we venture out to buy our Christmas presents, put up our Christmas decorations, and set out the Christmas scene in our nativities, complete with the Messiah in a manger.  In other words, Christmas comes as soon as the dishes are done. Baby Jesus comes on the last Friday of November.  I do not want to digress into mourning about the commercialization of a religious holiday or to rant about the need to insert Christ back into Christmas.  All of this is simply a collective sign that December has lost its role as a season of preparation for the coming Christ.

Advent is our liminal time, much like like the name of our blog.  Like the apostles waiting in the upper room in the days after the crucifixion we are stuck, anxiously twiddling our thumbs waiting for the next event.  For us, as with the apostles, its the second coming of Christ we anticipate.  Despite the remembrance of the first Christmas, Advent comes as a season to get ready for the day when Christ comes again.  This is an eschatological, and not memorial, preparation.

We just do not handle delayed gratification well.  Culturally, we are not trained to wait.  A recent review of Barnes and Noble’s new e-reader presents this well.  In describing the difference between a computer screen and the display of the e-reader the author praised the speed of a computer:  The image on an LCD screen, he said, is refreshed as many as 60 times a second.  Unfortunately, from his perspective, the e-reader screen only refreshes once a second.  As I read, I laughed.  There are few moments in my day to day life that I measure in increments smaller than a second.  Yet, I also know what he means.  When a computer or phone takes longer than a second to respond to my whimsical commands I can get frustrated.  In our ego-centric culture time and needs are defined by the individual’s perception, not the realities of the situation.  Having it our way, and having in now are the new mantras of our society.

But Advent forces us to stay for a while in the waiting stage.  We do not measure the season by seconds, minutes or even days.  We count the weeks, one candle at a time.  Then on Christmas Eve when we can finally light the center white candle, we are met with absence.  We can put Jesus in the manger, open the presents, and offer wishes of merriment for Christmas but the Second coming we expected does not take place.  So we content ourselves for memories, another egg nog and enter the post-Christmas let down.  Then the clean up begins and the Valentine’s day gifts fill the store shelves.  Its no wonder the season of advent is treated as the religious countdown to the remaining shopping days of the season.

When we do pause in this season of waiting, we can see for a moment the realities of the Christian life.  We are a people hopefully waiting, living in the state of delayed gratification.  What is known as the Glory Be, or Lesser Doxology captures our state well:  “As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”  God the Christ has been present from the beginning of time, in the manger long ago, now, and will come again.  Advent presents us with the occasion to search for  the presence of Christ in everything  through the confounding interplay of presence and absence; presence in the mangers of the nativity and yet absence in a conflicted world.