There has been talk, in recent years, of a war on Christmas. I don’t take much notice of this – Christmas is still a big deal, at least in the UK where you can watch a 24 hour Christmas movie channel and where the fairy lights are the main cause of climate change. But over the last few weeks I’ve heard other whispers. Whispers about the War on Advent.
Advent is the start of the liturgical year, but the ecclesiastical calendar plays a clever trick. It doesn’t dive straight into Christmas, it sets up four weeks of preparation and anticipation. And that’s the problem.
We don’t do anticipation any more. Our preparation begins with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but they’re not about preparing for the 25th, they’re about getting a bargain now, an early Christmas present because hey, who wants to wait?
We race into things. We don’t stop. We react. We don’t think.
Advent’s one of those pauses built into the year. We’re supposed to ease into Christmas, to think about what this season means, to consider the implications of God incarnate, of Jesus’s teachings and example. What actually happens is that we finish work at the last minute, rush around like headless turkeys and argue about the quality of roast potatoes.
Never mind spiritual preparation, Advent’s about buying stuff. And it doesn’t kick off with Advent Sunday, it starts with Black Friday.
If we’re going to reclaim our identity as something more than consumers and work units, we have to recognise what’s happening with the calendar. We have to recapture a rhythm of life. We don’t work to the harvest any more, so what do we work to? I have some ideas, but they’re not particularly edifying and besides, that’s more of an individual question: when do you get to stop? When do you get to rest? When do you stop giving and consuming and just start receiving something deeper and more satisfying? Even the church is complicit in this, and if you don’t believe me, ask yourself how much running around you’re going to be doing over the next few weeks and how much of that is down to making sure a hundred and one special services run smoothly?
Advent’s now just a way of measuring how many shopping days are left to Christmas, and that to me is the real war. It’s a war on our souls, our spirits, our relationships. Keep working, keep spending, don’t stop… That’s never going to create healthy communities, healthy families, healthy lives.
How do we fight back?