Our North American culture as a whole, it seems, has lost the concept of the Season of Advent.
Even by now, we have already been listening to pop Christmas music over radios for over a week, with December having only just begun! There are some that are already beginning to wish each other a Merry Christmas… and others that are already starting to get sick of the whole affair. With all the hype, the consumeristic pressure, and the over sentimentalized characterization of it all, by the time Christmas day actually rolls around, everyone will be ready to take down the decorations and toss the tree.
Lacking the correct orientation, the knowledge of Jesus as Savior, Redeemer, and as the very Son of God, all these Christmas preparations have become nothing more than watered-down sentimentalism.
How can we regain the sense of the true weight of Advent?
As we light the first purple candle on our wreath this week, let us begin by considering what could truly be meant by Advent hope.
In the words of G. K. Chesterton: “As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope beings to be a strength at all.”
It is little wonder, then, that Advent Hope means so little to our society. We are constantly hammered with the message that anything is possible, that all is acceptable, that nothing is wrong, and that pursuing comfort is easy, attainable, and desirable. Especially during Advent (a time which our consumeristic culture already considers the Christmas Season), we are caught up in a mindset only concerned with purchasing decorations and gifts, a mindset taking it for granted that we must already be at a certain standard of wealth, status, and comfort.
But the Gospel we proclaim tells a different truth.
As C. S. Lewis put it, “Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis — in itself a very bad news — before it can win the hearing for the cure.” The diagnosis liturgically manifests itself as the Advent wake-up call. We are “the people in darkness.” We are a people lost, sinful, and broken. We have rebelled against God, and our rebellion has brought us to such a place of barren darkness that we no longer remember how to live as we were created, or who we were even created to be. We are held hopelessly captive by our sin and selfishness. And we are in exile, having wandered far from our Father’s home, and unable to find the way back.
And yet, as Chesterton insists – “Exactly at the moment when hope ceases to be reasonable, it begins to be useful.”
We are in exile. We cannot get ourselves out of it, caught as we are in the tangles of sin and of our fallen nature; we need to be ransomed by Another. And here is our certain, unreasonable hope: that God Himself is coming to save us, to redeem us, to ransom us from the clutches of sin and death.
Let us wait in hope. Let us watch for our Lord and Savior’s coming. And with candles lit and eyes open, alert, let’s prepare ourselves for that fateful time – the time that the people in darkness have seen a great light (Is 9:2)…