Have you seen the MAGA hats, the T-shirts? I first saw one at a Zoomish staff meeting, but since have seen them elsewhere. They say: “Make Advent Great Again.”
You thought this was going to be political? It isn’t, but it is; keep reading.
The informal catechism I received when I became an Episcopalian (this was when our president had a four-letter name, just before the six-letter president) said that you could tell Episcopalians by their not saying Merry Christmas until it was really Christmas. This was one of three distinguishing marks of the True Faith. (The other two? Saying URR for “err” and SETH for “saith.”) The local vicar expressed the irony in a satisfying way. Christmas lasts twelve days, beginning (not ending!) on December 25. So he left the church’s outdoor creche in place through January 6. Invariably, he told us in a sermon, some well-meaning Baptist woman would call him around New Years to let him know he had forgotten to put his Christmas decorations away.
I took it in. Our family created a new tradition: we would pig out on Christmas carols on Thanksgiving Day, which is before Advent, and then fast from singing them until December 25. We also would shop for our Christmas tree on the last weekend before Christmas (which did save some dough, which was a good thing, provided the tree-mongers hadn’t already closed shop).
Susan had the view that not only could the tree and all the decorations stay up until the Epiphany (January 6), but they could remain all the way to the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which comes forty days after Christmas (i.e., February 2). With seriousness she would admonish us: we have to get the tree down by February 2.
Society, however, does not stand still. When the four-letter-guy was president, to say “merry Christmas” was still a social norm of sorts. In the decades since, we have become more aware of alternative holidays. People started feeling that to say Merry Christmas was an imposition, even an aggression, something offensive. So while the duly-catechized Episcopalian was keeping Advent and holding off Christmas, society was packing off Christmas to the cellar.
I changed. No longer did I demur during Advent if someone said “Merry Christmas” to me. No longer did I say, “Yes, I’m looking forward to it also.” I became an enthusiastic merry-Christmas-er to all and sundry, all through Advent.
Unquestionably, Advent has diminished. But to make Advent great again, methinks, is not to try, ever more frantically, to hold Christmas at bay. No, greatness lies in a different direction.
Which is: to remember that Advent points, not primarily to the birth of Jesus, but to his kingship. As the creed puts it, Jesus will come again to judge the quick and the dead. Advent is about the arrival of the true king. This we need to recapture: the true political meaning of Jesus as a king whose reign, when he returns, will extend over all the world. At that time he will judge universally, both individuals and also nations.
There is nothing greater than to have in your heart a longing for his coming, for his reign to be universally manifest. Come, Lord Jesus! With such a longing, Advent will indeed be great again.