At this time last year, people were beginning to look forward to 2020. Many couldn’t help but imagine it would be special year of “vision,” since 20/20 is the way opticians describe perfect sight. (People with 20/20 vision do not need eyeglasses.) But the year has been anything but a year for seeing clearly. In fact, for most of us, the end of this year of uncertainty cannot come soon enough. It has been difficult in more ways than one.
Of course, we know the troubles of this year will not magically disappear with the turn of a calendar page. We know, too, that the coming year will come with its own set of challenges. Still, we are more than ready to say “Goodbye” to 2020.
We still have six weeks before the year rolls over to 2021, but this coming Sunday is the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar year. We start the new church calendar year on November 29 with the first Sunday in Advent. Advent marks a new beginning–the commencement of our annual liturgical journey. We enter the season, looking forward, afresh, to celebrating the life of Christ beginning with his birth at Christmas.
It is hard for us to get too excited. Maybe we will still be unable to celebrate as we are accustomed to celebrate. Maybe the lock-down will still be in place. Maybe, it will even get tighter. Already many Christmas markets appear to be on hold, if they have not been cancelled outright. Maybe the stores will also be closed in the coming weeks. We may already expect fewer presents around the tree. Maybe there will also be fewer people around our table. Maybe we will not be able to gather together on Christmas Eve. Maybe this Christmas will be lonely and somber. Maybe . . .
But, just maybe . . . this will finally be a year when the restless melancholy we are actually meant to feel during the weeks of Advent (because Jesus has not yet returned) will not be lost by rushing into Christmas celebration too early. The feast days of the liturgical year are interspersed among seasons reserved and intended for watchful fasting. Sundays and holy feast days of celebration are meant to serve as pointers to the eternity of joyful celebration that awaits us at the Lord’s table, after He returns. But holy days of solemnity and fasting are also meant to remind us that the time of eternal joy is not yet. They are meant to allow us to focus on our lack, to give us opportunity to experience genuine longing for these days of sorrow and trouble to finally end, genuine hope for the coming of the King, which is not yet.
But fast days are not so easily commercialized, and so they have fallen out of practice. Generally, in our society’s rush to get to Christmas joy, the Advent season simply becomes an extended Christmas time of feasting. Maybe, Advent 2020 will be observed the way the season was intended: “Christmas, not yet.”
Embrace such an Advent! Indeed, the joy of Christmas may taste sweeter when the ache of Advent is more keenly felt.