As a commercial event, Christmas seems to come too soon each year. In the church calendar—observed by Christians around the world for centuries—Christmas morning marks the beginning of the season, and our hearts now rest in the season of Advent. To put that in the language of modern music, celebrating “Joy to the World” before we cry “O Come O Come Emmanuel” misses the hope of Advent.
“The ancient theologians of the Church, such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria, look upon the Christian life as one continual festival,” observes Ida von Hahn-Hahn. “Because the night of sin has been overcome by redemption, because reconciliation with God has brought peace and true joy to the soul, and because from this joy no one is excluded who does not voluntarily separate himself from God.”
Hahn-Hahn, a German countess who wrote a series of books on church history in the late 19th century, highlights the importance of Advent throughout history in preparing the souls of the faithful for Christmas:
Particular times were set apart as festivals, which, like faithful messengers of religion, returned every year, unceasingly announcing the work of redemption, and by their attractive festivity enkindling man, and preparing his soul for the everlasting feast of heaven.The fast of the four weeks of Advent, to prepare the sinful world for the merciful coming of the Lord… is not to be fulfilled by a trifling and superficial joy, but by the supernatural rejoicing of a heart entirely resting in God, and a life wholly consecrated to Him. Zeal for sanctification should extend over all the aims and objects of life.
Our goal in this season isn’t to usurp materialism only to restore an idyllic image of Christmas-past. Advent is a season where we seek the renewal of our souls in Christ as we prepare for Christmas-present—longing for Christmas-future: the great second Advent where the broken are restored, the dead are revived, and the hope of the gospel brings forth the restoration of all things. So in this season we joyfully, and longingly, sing together, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.”