This is Faith in Play #48: Advent, for November 2021.
There was, decades ago, a gag in a comic strip (called Funky Winkerbean) in which two of the characters were walking down the street marveling at all the decorations, the lights and garlands and wreaths put up for Christmas, and then one of them says, “It’s hard to believe it’s Labor Day already.” Our anticipation of Christmas is like that, and indeed there are places where Christmas decorations start going up as early as Labor Day (I’ve seen it). But then, we do celebrate Christmas by anticipation. We call it Advent, and it begins before this month has ended, the first Sunday in Advent this year falling on the last Sunday of November, three days after Thanksgiving. So hopefully you will forgive me anticipating that anticipation.
My attention was called to a peculiarity about this particular holiday: Advent is a time for looking back on looking forward. It celebrates anticipation, but the anticipation of something that has already happened. It is in that sense an effort to remember what it was like before salvation came into the world.
Of course, none of us can remember that, because salvation came into the world centuries, perhaps millennia, before we did. Yet there is a sense in which for each of us there was a time before it came to us. We were lost, and then we were saved. Do we remember being lost? Should we?
This aspect of remembering the time before salvation arrived has value. Last year—2020—many people began decorating for Christmas around now, the first week of November; they defended this by observing that the year had been so bad it needed to be brightened, and what better way to brighten it than by, as the song says, we need a little Christmas right this very minute. Lights and garlands went up, radio stations were playing Christmas music, and people were talking about rolling Thanksgiving into the Christmas celebration—arguably appropriate, since Christmas is something about which to be thankful.
I hope this year has been better for you. Yet there was a valuable message in last year: anticipating Christmas is an important part of the celebration; expecting the arrival of salvation is in itself part of salvation.
There is a sense in which we are again awaiting salvation, the coming of the promised one. Cynthia Clawson once did a very clever Christmas song in which she sang
Why don’t you come and take us home for Christmas,
Wrap us all up in arms of shining love,
Ride us through the sky in a magic sleigh?
We’ll be the gifts for Your birthday!
Why don’t you come and take us home with you?
Indeed, Advent reminds us that even though salvation came on a day we can’t actually identify (although our celebration falls at a reasonably appropriate time), it also still awaits us in our future, and we do well to anticipate it once again.