What in our future is worthy of anticipation?
The following article was first published November 29 on Facebook
Today is the first Sunday of Advent in the Christian tradition. Around the world, churches are lighting candles, hanging the green, and enduring bad versions of Magnificat. Secularly, it marks the beginning of the countdown to Christmas, which has returned more to its pagan Saturnalia roots in recent decades than a religious observance of the arrival of deity. We just like keeping the Christian name for the holiday so no one gets their panties in a wad.
Advent, though, comes with an interesting inference. From the Latin “venio,” which means “coming,” and “ad,” meaning “next,” advent in modern perspective literally means, “what’s next.” Perhaps it’s a Jeopardy answer in the form of a question, but it puts us in the position of presupposing and preparing for the future.
Advent does not need a religious context to propel our thoughts forward. As we look at flipping the last page on our twelve-month calendar, there is more anticipation this year than perhaps at any time since the end of World War II that changing the date is a relief and the coming year certainly has to be better. We have pinned our hopes on a vaccine, a new president, and a better economy. But what if those things don’t change our day-to-day reality? What then?
Christians began celebrating Advent somewhere in the fourth century, AD as a way of prepping for the Christmas celebration being imposed, sometimes forcefully, on a society compelled to observance. As the religion spread with the Crusades, it became more of a forward-looking celebration as the desire for a return of deity, purging the earth of its sins, became a popular theme. Thus, it has remained a strange mix of anticipating the future by celebrating the past. The only problem has been that the anticipated future, two millennia removed from its origin, has yet to happen. That’s a long time to wait.
Waiting is not something modern humans do well. We want things to happen immediately if not sooner. We demand everything happen in real-time. Managers love telling employees, “Don’t tell me what you’re going to do, do it.” Inspiring, isn’t it? Okay, maybe not. Rush that vaccine through the trial phase because we can’t handle this mask-wearing, social-distancing reality that’s cramping our style. That’s probably a better example of our collective impatience.
Yet, just as no deity has suddenly appeared, life as we currently know it is not likely to change that much after we adapt to writing 2021 on mandated forms (we used to say checks, but no one uses those anymore). Changing the occupant in the White House doesn’t bring jobs back. The introduction of a vaccine doesn’t mean we can stop wearing masks in public or keeping our distance. No one reading this is likely to suddenly see more money in their bank account. People are still going to die. People are still going to suffer.
If things aren’t going to get better, what is there to anticipate? The answer, as is almost always the case, lies less upon the whims of government, society, or the markets, and more within our choices in how we approach and respond to whatever is waiting around the bend. We have, especially over the past four years, developed this national sense of dread, a fear that what is about to happen, or what is currently happening, is going to hurt us and that there’s not anything substantial we can do to stop it. Perhaps now, in THIS Advent season, it is the time to change that attitude to one of compassion, hope, and peace.
How does that play out? By having compassion for those who continue to struggle, continue to be in need, and continue to search for answers that aren’t quick to come. By putting faith in ourselves and those around us to turn our frustrations with this year into positive energy that improves the next one. By finding the peace within ourselves to accept that, no matter what happens next, we’re okay, even if it’s difficult.
Breaking out of a cycle of social and political abuse is no less challenging than leaving an abusive spouse. We feel defeated. We find it difficult to imagine anything different than our current reality. To move forward, we not only have to find compassion for others, but we also have to, ourselves, look to others for support. We break the cycle together. We divorce ourselves from hate and ignorance with our arms linked, marching forward into a new year with the attitude that we are the embodiment of our own progress.
Advent gives us the opportunity to look forward by leaving here, on this Sunday, those things we don’t need to carry with us. Hate. Animosity. Bigotry. Racism. Homophobia. Transphobia. Ignorance. As Beyoncé instructed, put all that mess in the box to the left. This is our chance to shed what’s holding us back because we’re not going to need it in our future; it does us no good and serves no purpose.
Advent reminds us that something better is possible. Embrace it. Engage it. You are in charge of what’s next. Make it your own.
Peace be unto you.