Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. Lots of people have put their trees up already, my quick straw poll of the office says that most of them are going up next weekend, people should do what makes them happy, if you want a Christmas tree now, put it up.
I will wait until Christmas Eve, because I don’t want to miss the anticipation of Advent. This year, I have my usual paper calendar and candle, a beauty advent calendar and Ma and I are sharing a wine advent calendar. We are in Advent now so listen to Christmas music, I’ve been doing this for a couple of years after reading about someone else who did. It’s fantastic, on Monday morning, I came into work listening to Bob Dylan singing ‘Must Be Santa’ – it’s impossible to be gloomy when that’s playing but it’s also really apt as we’re in Chanukah, and I’m waiting for Neil Diamond singing The Chanukah Song to make the week complete.
There are loads of things to do in December that aren’t a tree but are about Christmas and feeling Christmassy. The 6 December is St Nicholas’ day, which basically involves being nice and giving away sweets (or leaving them in people’s shoes!), I won’t be punching heretics, which is the other thing, he’s known for, but he is my name saint so it makes sense. There also Christingle, which is definitely a Protestant thing, Luther and or the Moravian churches invented a Christkindl, meaning “Little Christ Child” festival which celebrates Christ as the Light of the World, it doesn’t seem to have a specific date, and can happen sometime between Advent and Epiphany, in the UK it was used to fundraise for the Children’s Society (the more you know!) , in which an orange stands in for the world, a candle for Christ’s Light, red ribbon for His blood, and finally sweets and dried fruit to represent the fruits of the earth and the seasons. When we did it we used cloves, which made it into a pomander. Which is probably good for an afternoon with a glass of wine activity. I will also need to find some time for Christmas baking, which I’ve just about got planned.
Activities and Advent calendars aside, I do want to spend some of the next three and a half weeks, waiting. It’s the thing, I find most spiritually useful in Advent and not because I need to learn to be patient (yes I absolutely do!). Waiting and patience rewarded is baked into Advent. Not just because we get the child in the manger, but in the story of Elizabeth and her desperate waiting for a child which she does finally get but not quite in the way she expected.
It’s a common failure of Christianity, that story about waiting and about getting what we desire. The concept that we are rewarded by God for faithfulness. We get muddled, thinking that if we asked God for what we want, and if we’re patient and good, it’ll happen. That if we’re not, it’s because we didn’t ask properly, or wait long enough or behaved well enough. We ask for a lot, for a home, security, money or at least not having to worry about it, a partner, children, freedom from sickness or pain. If enough of those things happen, we think it’s because we deserve them, we’ve been rewarded.
A friend of mine calls it ‘Harry Potter Jesus’, but the truth is that what God wants for us doesn’t always mesh with what we want for ourselves, sometimes God’s answer is no.
It’s hard to reconcile the idea of a God that wants good things for us, with that hard no. The disconnect is painful, we’re supposed to believe that God loves us and we should be grateful for what we do have and everyone else seems to have the desire of their heart and you don’t and it’s hard and it’s sometimes lonely but it’s God’s plan for you. Why can’t you get want you want, why doesn’t God love you enough. It really sucks, ask me how I know.
Which is why I love the wait in Advent. At the end of Advent, I know what I’m getting, there will be a child, who will grow up to be a man, who understands all about that no. He understands how difficult it is to reconcile God’s Love with not having the things we want, when He said He loved us. He also shows me that real faith isn’t about reward but service.
So I wait, and there will be lights and presents and joy and work and service. And someone who has run that race and can show me how.