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Steve’s Slant

Earlier this week, the Christian writer and activist John Pavlovitz posted an image on his Twitter feed that made me laugh out loud.  It was a photo of a purple baseball cap.  The inscription on the front of the cap read: Make Advent Great Again.  (So, technically, MAGA.)  I was so taken with this image, and this idea, that I posted it myself on my Facebook page, noting that this was my goal for the next four Sundays, to Make Advent Great Again.

It wasn’t long before the comments started to roll in.  Stephen Keener, whose father, Bob, loved Advent more than all the other liturgical seasons, posted: “Dad would like this.”  Robyn’s Aunt Carol, a devout Catholic, got right to the point: “Love it.”  But one comment from Diana Sanderson stood out, and gave me pause. “Again?  Advent is and always has been great.”  I love that thought.  For as long as followers of Jesus have intentionally prepared to celebrate his birth, as long as faithful people (and skeptical people, too, for that matter) have spent time pondering what it means for God to take on human form and dwell among us, Advent has indeed been great.

And yet I also believe the greatness of this season is more complicated than that.  Part of it may be a simple matter of punctuation. 

Make Advent Great. Again!

But part of it is the knowledge that, for any number of reasons, the four weeks before Christmas can be, and often are, very difficult, I suspect more so than many of us would care to admit.  And maybe this year more than ever.  Maybe you are facing the prospect of preparing for your first Christmas in ten or twenty or thirty years without your beloved spouse.  You fear that O Come, O Come Emmanuel will sound very different
without your wife singing it beside you.  You worry that your family tradition of decorating the Christmas tree on the first Sunday of
Advent will feel hollow without your husband at hand to help festoon the branches with lights and place the star atop the tree.  Or maybe for the first time ever, you’re dreading your traditional family gathering at your parents’ house with your three siblings.  Because even though you are a close and loving bunch, you know and they know that you all voted differently last November. You know and they know that you all still feel very differently about the direction in which our country is headed.  You know and they know that there’s just no way around it: all of this will come up before your mom is done cooking the Christmas goose.

So maybe this year Advent feels different for you.  Harder.  Less about preparing for the birth of the Savior and more about surviving a holiday season that will almost certainly be even more stressful than it ordinarily is.  If so, take heart.  Because here’s the truth: there is nothing inherently magical about Advent.  If Christmas itself were just another day, a day like any other day, so, too, would be the first four weeks of December–a month just like any other month. 

Which is to say that we are the ones who make Advent great.  We do that by gathering to sing our favorite Advent carols, even the haunting ones, perhaps especially the haunting ones, that remind us that the world has always longed for Christ to come, just as we may be longing for his coming now.  We do that by waging hope when hope seems far off.  By making peace when the way to peace is obscured by strongly felt differences.  By practicing joy when it would be easier to channel our inner Scrooge and declare “Bah humbug” on it all.  And, when that fourth Sunday finally comes, by letting the love that was born on Christmas night flood our souls.

Or to put all of this more simply, in my mind the perfect hat for this season would read: Make Advent Great. Again. And again. And again….