By Adam McDuffie
Linus was gracious enough to help Charlie Brown out and remind him what Christmas is all about, but what we really need is a Peanuts Advent special, because we’ve forgotten somewhere along the way.
This year, I spent Thanksgiving in New York, visiting my fiance’s sister and seeing the sights. This was my first time in the city, and it was a lot to take in. Unsurprisingly, New York is a far cry from my hometown, the bustling metropolis of Atoka, TN. I, like most Americans, grew up spending my Thanksgiving mornings on the couch, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and it felt a little surreal to be there among the throngs of people watching as the balloons were inflated before the parade. After a while, we made our way toward midtown, and as we walked, we traveled in time.
We had just left a place where they were preparing for Thanksgiving, but now we stood in Times Square, surrounded by Christmas. Christmas music, Christmas Dunkin Donuts cups, Christmas scenes on display in the Macy’s storefront, and ads for Christmas shopping everywhere you looked. In a city that purportedly never sleeps, and at the epicenter of Black Friday, it figures that New York would have no time for something like waiting, but for some reason the feeling of completely skipping the season of Advent has never felt as pronounced to me as it did while standing in the middle of Times Square that night. And I don’t mean to suggest that New York is the only place with this problem, because that obviously isn’t the case. I really think everyone could use Advent these days.
Christmas begins when Halloween ends. Thanksgiving dinner is just the pregame meal for Black Friday shopping. We live in a society that has no time to wait, even though waiting is something we really need today. We look around the world and we see violence, hunger, poverty, natural disasters, corruption, the list goes on and on. If every day is Christmas, then something is wrong. If we stop our waiting, waiting for the day when the kindom truly arrives, and forever only celebrate the arrival of Jesus in a manger and the Christmas trees, hot chocolate, and awesome sales that arrived with him, then we only cheapen the meaning of the incarnation. The Word of God became flesh and made its home among us…so we could find incredible deals on flat-screen TVs once a year?
Advent isn’t about just waiting for one thing. It’s about recreating the waiting that has characterized the people of God across the ages. Through pain and exile, God’s people have waited and waited. They waited for Jesus, and we share in that waiting once a year through Advent. But, Advent is also a waiting that we take part in in a very real way. If we truly believe there is nothing better to be waiting for in this world, then we aren’t paying attention. We await the coming of the kindom, the coming of justice in the world, the coming of a light that cannot be overcome by the deepest dark of winter. Every year we are reminded that we are not there yet, and every year we are reminded of the work that is yet to be done. If all we ever do is celebrate that Jesus has come, we let ourselves off the hook for the challenges that remain. There is still something out there worth pausing and waiting for.
O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
That’s what Advent is all about, Charlie Brown.
Adam McDuffie is a third year M.Div. student at the Candler School of Theology. He currently serves as a research assistant at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.