In America, Halloween costumes are hardly put away before Christmas decorations start appearing in stores. Christmas songs begin playing on the radio in November. Halls are decked with boughs of holly shortly after Thanksgiving. Then, on December 26, it all goes away. Decorations are stored, carols are forgotten, and Christmas trees are tossed to the curb. Abruptly, Christmas is over.
The Christian calendar was constructed rather differently than this. The weeks leading up to Christmas were not commercial, they were spiritual. This time of year was called Advent, which is derived from the Latin word for "coming." Christians throughout the centuries spent the Advent weeks piously and eagerly anticipating the arrival, not of Santa Claus, but of Jesus himself. In this time of preparation, Christians remember two events: the Nativity, where Christ first came to us, and the Second Coming, that time when he will come again. Advent was a quiet time of reflection, but on Christmas day the joyous celebration began, and it carried through all twelve days of Christmas, ending on the feast of the Epiphany.
In the hustle and bustle of "Holiday", the new Christmas season that was created by department stores, there is hardly a spare moment for quiet reflection and eager anticipation. That's a shame because the effect has been that we forget: Christ is coming! "No one knows about that day or hour..." Scripture says. (Mark 13:32)
Christ taught the following parable:
Advent, then, is that time of year when we prepare ourselves for Christ by remembering the first coming and preparing for the second.
These are very pious thoughts, a cynic may say, but what does it have to do with public policy? After all, if we await Christ's return, if we truly expect that he may come any day, why worry about justice and peace on Earth? Shouldn't we simply wait for Christ the King, who will make all things right?