We are impatient people, aren’t we?
Every year around this time, I hear it. Sometimes, I get bombarded by it: “Why aren’t we singing more Christmas songs in worship? I don’t even know the songs we’re singing now. Let’s have more Christmas hymns.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these statements or questions. The problem is they all reflect a prevalent attitude many folks – even church-going folks – tightly hold: the attitude of getting
through the season of Advent and rushing into Christmas. Many folks want to forego the preparation Advent calls for. They would rather not have to wait or prepare themselves for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Many would prefer skipping right over this sometimes-slowly-moving and uncomfortable season of Advent because it forces us to slow down, to pause all the hectic activities and focus on making ourselves ready for the birth of Christ.
Advent involves taking an honest look at our lives to see where we have gone astray in our journey of faith; to move beyond our superficial mindset of the “sweetness” of Christmas and looking at the difficult task of making ourselves ready: self-examination, confession, and repentance. It can be a long and unpleasant process.
Advent also helps us move beyond the self-centered idea that worship is all about us, as the question above reflects. We need to be reminded that worship is not about us. It’s all about God. The work of Advent serves as that reminder. We do not worship so we can sing only the songs we know and love. We don’t worship just so we can “feel good.” And we don’t worship to be reminded only of those parts of Jesus’ life that we most like. We worship because it is all about God; it is our response to God’s goodness toward us. Advent is a big part of that story.
We rush to Christmas at our own peril. In our own Christmas rushes, we easily forget that the birth of the Messiah long ago involved waiting and watching, preparing for that day. It still does today. Rushing to get to Christmas means we won’t have to do the hard work of waiting and watching; of making ourselves ready to welcome the Messiah; of the humbling work of removing ourselves from the center of our own lives so that this newborn King may become the object and reason for our worship.
Living with the season of Advent is often uncomfortable. It can be tedious. It is often slow. But in living with it, we become more receptive to the coming of the Christ child not only into our world, but into our lives. And when we determine to struggle through Advent, we arrive at Christmas more ready to welcome and celebrate the arrival of the One for whom we have been waiting and preparing.
So, let’s embrace the unfamiliarity and discomfort of the Advent season. Let’s sing at the top of our lungs those unfamiliar hymns of Advent, even if we don’t like them, or appreciate them. Let’s use this time to remember that when we sing those hymns we don’t know, when we sometimes slog through Advent, it will all be worth it because we have done the difficult work of removing from our lives all that stands in the way of fully receiving, celebrating, and worshiping Christ.