There is greenery and twinkling lights everywhere, people have Christmas trees and other decorations up, and a wide range of Christmas tunes can be heard everywhere. Everybody's supposed to be happy and jolly. It's all about peace, hope, joy, and love. What's not to love?
Quite a lot actually. I grew up in churches that hung greens and sang Christmas tunes throughout Advent, and every year I just began to long for lent. Because I didn't want people to tell me to be happy. Now, I grew up a privileged youth in a loving middle class family who did well in school and was fairly well liked. I had nothing to complain about. But I have always had a morose side. I would much rather have a calm and collected time to reflect and focus than a bunch of added stuff that is supposed to make me cheerful. In fact, my biggest problem with many Protestant Churches is they simply don't give people enough time to simply feel what they are feeling. They get invested in trying to lift spirits when sometimes spirits need to talk to God from where they are at.
And that's always been my problem with this time of the year. It always feels like people are trying to force certain emotions onto people. Peace, hope, joy, and love are nice, but they are all also emotional words. One feels at peace, one hopes, one is joyful, one loves. To encourage these emotions within a congregation can also make people feel guilty when they don't have these emotions. Couple that will all the holly jolly Christmas-y things going on in secular America, and it can make some people feel bad for not being happy.
At least it made me feel bad for not being happy and joyful. I became the grinch of the family when I was a teenager, because I just didn't want a Christmas tree in my home. I have nothing against Christmas trees, but they are everywhere and they encourage an emotional state that I simply wasn't in. I needed some space where I could just have my emotions.
I used to feel like there was something wrong with my Christianity because I wasn't amazingly awed by a baby in a manger coupled with all this greenery and pagentry. I felt like advent was the time when the church got fluffy and flaky. I finally broke down and told my pastor that I hated Advent. Then he introduced the idea of Advent to me. Real Advent. A time of waiting, of longing, of uncertainty. A time of hopeful endurance, waiting for the incarnation of Christ. It was awesome, but I still find it hard to gel that Advent with the Christmas trees and Christmas carols found within the church sanctuary.
This is now my second Advent as an Episcopalian. And the thing I love about Episcopal Advent is that the Church doesn't dress up for Christmas until Christmas Eve. It doesn't sing Christmas carols, and it doesn't call the advent candles the candles of peace, hope, joy, and love. It is a space where I can simply remove myself from the holly jollys and the craziness of the rest of the world that is trying to celebrate a baby before he's born. And through the voices of the congregation singing, "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel", I can feel the longing. I am allowed a place to simply come as I am, a place to cry out to God and say that most days, I'm still waiting for Christ. I still ache for salvation. I still hope for the incarnation.
I still don't like this time of the year because I still feel the pressure to display fake emotions and be in the "Christmas spirit", but I'm beginning to enjoy the Biblical part of the season more. I can sing the Magnificat alongside Mary. I can feel the passion in John the Baptist shouting out, "Prepare ye the way of The Lord!" These are things that can move me to worship God no matter my emotional state. They resonate whether I'm joyous or weeping. They meet me where I'm at and call me to come on a journey, a journey that will eventually take me alongside the Magi to the house of the King of Kings. It's a long, arduous journey, one that will last years and be filled with deceivers like Herod trying to trick me into betraying my Savior, but it's one that is worth taking. Because in the end, I will see the Christ that I wait and long for face to face. I will receive the incarnation. And that's all I hope and long for.