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Welcome to Advent

What is Advent anyway? Should we be happy? Sad? Contemplative? Expectant? And why is that one candle pink? Walter Canter reflects on this liturgical season's absurdity and beauty.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

It’s the time of year when time means everything and nothing, all at once. Your pastor will enter another dimension, speaking about the time that was, the time that will be, and the “in-between” time, which is the present time, the time that is. An adult John the Baptist will proclaim words of anticipation for the adult Jesus as we get ready for the baby Jesus who was born over 2000 years ago (sorry, you missed the shower). Hordes of hardcore reformationist grandmothers will take to church back alleys to battle nostalgic young mothers over the appropriate time to sing Christmas carols.

The days will get darker. The candle lights will glow brighter. The church’s celebration of Christmas will wrap up after Epiphany in early January. So, by the end of it, your secular neighbor will have taken down their Christmas tree which has been decorated in their window since Halloween and will, following cues from the supermarket, replace it with the pinks, reds, and white hearts of Saint Valentine, casting an eerie glow for your verbose, outdoor rendition of “Silent Night.”

It’s the time of year when you pledge to do devotions together with your whole household at least once a week for the next five weeks (this is the year!), until you realize that Advent started the Sunday right after Thanksgiving and you’re already a week behind.

No one really knows what greeting is most appropriate for Advent. Is it the time of year to say, “Merry Christmas!” or is it, “Happy Holidays!” or is it, “Have a nice Advent!”? Is Advent “nice?”

Also, no one really knows why there is a pink candle. Do you know? Can you tell me?

It’s the time of year when children are, to varying degrees, forced into angelic outfits made of white fabric and golden headbands or finagled into 30-year-old bathrobes tied with twine and capped with an earth-tone sample of fabric, also tied in place with twine (totally what shepherds wear, right?). A few lucky kids will get away with wearing sweat suits of solid white, gray, or tan along with masks that indicate their new identities as sheep, donkeys, or camels (the animals always get the best lines). They will walk through the Christmas story reciting adorable, memorized lines and singing sweet melodies while the youngest angels or sheep wander off in search of items to stick in their mouths, or maybe you go to the church with the hip, new, modernized Christmas pageant that references cordless phones and includes a ‘rap’ about three kings (Can I get a Haay! Hoooo!).

Of course, most of the time during this time when time is theologically and chronologically confused, you will be living your normal life, volunteering, sleeping, working, eating, partying and playing. And then, suddenly, one day you will look at a calendar and realize that there is less than a week until Christmas, and you will need to remember where you put the baby Jesus for your manger scene before your neighbor hangs their shamrock decorations.

Advent is an odd season full of the unknown, unexplained, and unwanted. Is it pre-Christmas? Winter Lent? Christian Ragnarök? Are we penitential? Joyful? Hopeful? Enlightened? Shrouded in darkness? The most beautiful thing about the season is that it can be all of or none of the above. Advent means that something is going to happen, and something always does.