Why Advent?

Mariah Carey, Waiting for Godot, and StoryMakers!

I do not always pay attention to the latest Internet feuds but when Mariah Carey starts smashing jack-o-lanterns, I will admit at least mild curiosity. Across social media, friends shared a video that opens with a series of pumpkins carved with the words “Not Yet.” The front door creaks open and Mariah steps over the threshold. We see her wield a baseball bat, smashing each and every pumpkin, obliterating the message of postponement. As far as I can interpret the video and comments, I believe there are two kinds of people in the world — those who believe Christmas music should be played immediately following Halloween and those who believe Christmas music should be played only after Thanksgiving. 

I refuse to wade into this debate. In truth, I do not care when anyone listens to Christmas music. What I am intrigued by is the idea of waiting for an appointed time, sitting in the anticipation of “not yet,” extending hope while still living in the present. 

I am not good at waiting. I do not like waiting for holidays, for test results, for the bus, for appointments, for good news, for bad news, really for news of any kind, for cookies to bake, for coffee to brew, for the internet to connect, for new episodes of favorite tv shows that do not come out all at once (I’m looking at you Only Murders in the Building), for justice to be served, for vindication of my decisions or for things to get better. Waiting is precarious because we do not control the future. Waiting is onerous because very few of us are capable of even a modicum of patience. I know I am not.

This idea of anticipation was central to an Atlantic article about “the theater of the absurd,” specifically Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. The author, Joe Pinsker, pondered whether a play about two men waiting could teach us anything about our current situation with regard to the Delta variant and subsequent surge. Interviewing Shane Vogel, a Yale professor of theater and performance, Pinsker asked, “We’ve been waiting for the pandemic to be over for a year and a half now, but there still isn’t a clear end in sight. Is there any wisdom or guidance you might extract from the play to help us cope with the remainder of our waiting?” Vogel replied,

I might ask, is our desire for the end of the pandemic a desire to reestablish not just our day-to-day routines but also to return to all the distraction and noise that allow us not to think about the meaning of life? This is not to say that the pandemic is a good thing, but it’s an opportunity to ask, what if the thing you’re waiting for never arrives? What if instead of waiting, you act or think differently instead of trying to go back to the way things were?

Advent is an entire season of waiting. Spending four weeks in anticipation of the coming of Christ, we admit we are powerless to bring relief or resolution to our world. We tune out the noise and distraction of the music, the flash, the glitz and the glamour. We act and think differently because we know we will not go back to the way things were. Thank God. We consider the meaning of life. We do what Vogel suggests, but we are not waiting for someone who never shows up. We are waiting for someone who has already come and who will come again. 

When we lived in Switzerland, I noticed a difference in parenting with regard to waiting.  Generally, American parents tended to solve problems for their children or say their main desire to make their children happy. The Europeans intentionally delayed gratification for their offspring because they know waiting and hoping is a necessary part of life. They taught their children to be comfortable with the wait. Perhaps this is anecdotal evidence (or projection!), but I think the difference between the two approaches is still instructive.

Making ourselves, and our children, wait seems counter-intuitive, but perhaps that is one reason why the church celebrates Advent annually. Lord knows we would never choose to wait for anything. Before the feasting, before the presents, before the days off from work, we add in an entire season before Christmas. The anticipation makes the celebration sweeter, yes, but delayed gratification also offers comfort for us in the waiting of the everyday — to prepare us for the “not yet.”

If you are interested in creative ways to mark Advent with children, please look into StoryMakers zines for Advent. Advent Two is “Faith in the Unseen” and tells the story of the Angel Gabriel’s pronouncement to Mary. Advent Three is “Advent Around the World,” teaching children (and grown ups) about how different cultures celebrate the season.

Regardless of whether Mariah is playing in your house now or next month, the zines will help you and your children as you wait for Christmas, not only anticipating the holiday but in the very act of waiting itself.

For these (and other) resources from StoryMakers click here!