Written by Emily Heath
"Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out… that God may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus . . . ." - Acts 3:19-20
Let's be honest. Advent is kind of a drag.
Outside the church doors Christmas has been in full swing since late November. There are trees and carols. Parties and lights. Cookies and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Inside the doors we have a wreath with some candles. And Advent hymns. So we have that going for us.
The reality is Advent has long been a solemn season for the church. In previous generations celebrations like weddings were forbidden during Advent, and fasting was encouraged. Many have compared Advent to a "mini-Lent" when we are called to repent.
It's hard to feel like what's happening inside the doors of the church stands in such strong contrast from what's going on outside. And yet, there's something about Advent that can serve to increase our joy this time of year, not lessen it.
The church observes Advent not because we hate joy. Instead, we prepare so that we can become more joyful people. Advent is about cleaning our spiritual house so that we can make room for the joy that is coming. And it's also about being ready to truly celebrate Christ's birth while many are packing their joy away long before the twelve days of Christmas end.
So, play carols, put up the tree, drink the eggnog. But don't settle for that being enough. Go deeper. Pray. Prepare. Reflect. Make room for joy. Jesus didn't come to make us a dour bunch of kill-joys. But he didn't come for us to settle for fleeting joy either. Because Advent is about choosing a joy that lasts, and not just a seasonal sugar-high of happiness.
Joyful God, we long to be your Christmas people. But first, help us to be your Advent people. Teach us to prepare our hearts for a joy we can only imagine. And when that joy comes, help us to hold onto it all year long. Amen.