Well, we have done it again, we have worked our way through another year and find ourselves once again in the holiday season, that time in the year that is full of celebration and happiness, right? (Isn't it the "hap, happiest time of the year?") Well, not always and not for everyone. I was reminded of this when I was talking with my mom a while back about the upcoming holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. She shared that although she has not lost the Joy of Christmas, it is a difficult time of the year for her now. Immediately following Thanksgiving, my mom and dad would decorate--with lights, trains, and hand-made animated characters--every square inch of their corner lot and sit on the porch every evening talking to the "guests" that backed traffic up in the neighborhood to see this winter wonderland. Candy canes were handed out to wide-eyed kids, while Christmas carols sung by Andy Williams rang out over the crackle of wood burning in the fire pit.
The corner house is quiet now and the only lights that shine are the ones coming from inside the home. Many of the returning "guests" still stop to ask if everything is okay. It is not. Not since my dad passed away a few years back. The visitors reminisce and share their fond memories of the prior years before moving on in search of more lights.
In the end, the Grinch got it right, true joy is not found in the outward happiness and celebration of the season, but instead with anticipation of what is coming.
That is what “advent” means: coming (adventus), and anticipates the coming of Jesus' birth. We think of this as Christmas, but the earlier tradition celebrated Epiphany (January 6th) marking the time that the Magi came and adored the Christ child.
While some of our contemporary tradition finds it roots in the gift giving of the Magi, the early tradition did not get lost in the commercialization of the season that trades the inner joy found in the anticipation of the Savior for the outward celebration of lights, décor and gift-giving to one another (I don’t find it anywhere in the story that the Magi gave gifts to each other!).
Although the earliest history of Advent is somewhat vague and undocumented--some suggest that the apostle Peter celebrated Advent--it is known to have been widely celebrated in the fourth century after Constantine declared Jesus' birth a national holiday and Julius, the Bishop of Rome, established December 25 as Christmas Day. Until recent times, much of the Church, mainly Orthodox Christians, celebrated with solemnity, reflecting on the coming of the Christ child and anticipating the freedom from suffering that will come with Christ's second coming.
I encourage you to take time during this Advent season to ponder the reality and ramifications of Jesus' birth and seek out that true joy that resides deeper than the surface happiness and fravolity. How might you take steps to reintroduce some of the early traditions and attitudes of Christmas: contemplation, compassion, generosity (to others that are unable to be generous in return,) anticipation, humility, and of course, JOY?