Advent is the restless season

Last week a spectacularly tasteless ad arrived in my In box, from a firm that promised me a brilliant new Christmas-gift idea.

(If you read on, you’ll understand why I will not identify either the firm or the gift. This misbegotten idea will receive no publicity—not even negative publicity—from me.)

The “brilliant new idea” was a gift that I could buy for myself. The urge to buy things for yourself isn’t exactly the greatest manifestation of the true Christmas spirit. But that was only the beginning of the problem in this case.

Actually, the ad promised 24 gifts. If I plunked down a considerable sum of money, this firm would send me one Christmas gift for each day. These gifts would begin arriving on December 1, and there would be another for every day until December 24.

And then the gifts would stop. On Christmas Day.

Do you see what’s happening here—aside from the flagrant appeal to self-indulgence? The firm was identifying the “Christmas season” as the period leading up to Christmas. Once Christmas arrived, the “Christmas season” was over!

Faithful Christians enjoy Advent as a season of anxious anticipation. The eagerness with which we look forward to celebrating the Incarnation is dampened if we hit the party circuit too early. But again, that’s only the beginning of the problem with this perverse advertisement.

What I found most striking about this firm’s pitch was the unabashed suggestion that I should celebrate the Christmas season right up until Christmas Eve, and then stop. Just as the religious observance began, this crassly commercial operation would close down.

Here, in one dumb online advertisement, was an example of the American secular celebration of “the Christmas season” at its worst. To say that the holy day had been drained of religious significance would be an understatement. Any thought about Christ’s birth had been dropped out of the thinking of this firm’s publicists long ago. Now they had gone much further. Having taken Christ out of Christmas, they were now prepared to remove Christmas day from the Christmas season.

And why not? If the Christmas season is made merry by shopping and by office parties and by music in the malls, we might as well acknowledge that those things stop on Christmas Day: a holiday, when stores and offices are closed and families stay at home. If the season is made merry by the realization of year-end profits at big-box stores, those profits have already been reaped, and the advertising managers can relax at last. It’s all over.

But for us Christians, it’s only just beginning. We’re human, and we can be caught up in the pre-Christmas excitement: the rush to shop and to prepare, the jingling and the ho-ho-hos. That’s only natural. But we know that the parties and the presents are only the superficial manifestation of a deeper joy. We don’t look for satisfaction in the gifts—and certainly not in whatever gifts we give to ourselves!—because we know that these things always fail to satisfy. There’s a let-down waiting for anyone who looks forward to Christmas solely because of the gifts under the tree. There’s an infinitely more valuable gift, offered to anyone who awaits it. And the more eagerly we await it, the more it will satisfy.

“Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” Restless: that’s the best word to describe the feeling of Advent anticipation. Come, Lord Jesus!

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