Question: I have heard Advent used to be time of fast, much like Lent. Is…
Reclaiming childlike wonder and anticipation this Advent
This past Sunday, I attended the baptism of a little boy born to dear friends of mine. Ever since they announced that they were expecting their firstborn, I looked forward to November with anticipation, as did they.
Celebrating the milestones with them has been a blessing, one that I have not experienced in a long time. While a number of friends and family members have had children in recent years, I’ve always lived too far away to participate in these precious moments outside of occasional updates on social media. So for my own slightly selfish reasons, I loved walking with my friends through their pregnancy, from moving them into their new home to gifting them with a mountain of diapers at the baby shower. Above all, it was beautiful to witness this couple step fully into their vocation — seeing the joy it brought to their lives as they waited to hold the son they already loved.
A week after he was born, I brought dinner to my friends. While we talked, and as they finished a few things for the baptism the next day, I held their new bundle of joy, watching him as he slept contentedly in my arms. And I couldn’t help but agree with them: There is nothing better than snuggling a warm baby during the cold winter months.
The following morning, we all rejoiced as their son was brought into the Faith by the waters of baptism. Parents and godparents, friends and family gathered together after months of anticipation and celebrated his new life in Christ. We had longed for these simple moments, and now we were living them.
As we dive into Advent, I’m trying to keep this anticipation fresh in my mind, trying to maintain my wonder. On the outside, our culture seems to be rich with expectation. Christmas decorations line the aisles as soon as Halloween is over (if not earlier), and Christmas songs are playing on radio stations as if the season is already upon us. Yet the consumerism of the season — a greedy longing for the superficial aspects of this most wonderful time of year — often drowns out the quiet anticipation of waiting for a simple yet profound event: the birth of a child, the nativity of our salvation.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, providing an opportunity for a fresh start and guiding us with a specific focus — the coming of the Christ child. November ends after we’ve remembered our death, and December begins as we look forward to new life in Christ. He is our hope; he is our reason for joy.
And yet how often do we overcomplicate everything? We get caught up in the decorations and the music and the gifts, checking off our lists of holiday necessities. Even in the spiritual life, we can approach Advent as boot camp for Christmas, trying to fit in all the spiritual practices we’ve put aside throughout the year. But these things often can turn the emphasis on me, on us, instead of the God who lived and dwelt among us. For thousands of years, the people of God were awaiting the Messiah, and now we can only wait for the season of busyness to end.
Anticipating Christmas was so much easier as a child when we naturally had a sense of wonder. As a kid, all it took was a nice December snowfall for it to feel like Christmas. Now we worry about driving to work in these slippery conditions or complain about pulling out our winter coats. As an adult, the excitement of Christmas dinner with family and presents under the tree is dwarfed by the preparation it takes to make these dreams a reality. Even the liturgical practices of lighting the Advent wreath, which used to incite dinner brawls over who would light the candles, can be pushed aside as too much work. And in the hustle and bustle, we forget the basic message: that we are sinners in need of a savior, and that God loves us enough to come as a tiny child.
So this year, I’m going to slow down. I’m going to try and reclaim this childlike wonder. I’m going to hold my friends’ baby boy and try to comprehend how God came into the world as a simple, vulnerable babe, for you, for me.
Ava Lalor is assistant editor for Our Sunday Visitor.