Or, happy Advent, everyone.
I wrote this in December '07, while I was living in Camden, trying blindly to figure out what I was doing and who I was. It was kind of a hard year. Camden's isolating, even if you have a community around you. I was working as a grant writer at the time, which didn't pay much, and I was freaking out about applying to (and paying for) grad school. And it was a couple months after my friend Ben died, which...well, it threw a lot of us off, to say the least.
Advent is about anticipation, about waiting. It's what I like about the liturgical year: it gives us time to celebrate, wait, mourn, repent. Sometimes it demands things of us (mourn now, think about your failings now) but--in contrast to how I felt growing up evangelical--it doesn't manipulate emotion. Rather, it provides space for it. And I like that.
In any case, I was looking this over and I thought, well, I don't live in Camden anymore, but it still makes a good Advent reflection.
I never believed in Santa Claus as a kid. My parents didn't tell me he wasn't real; they just never mentioned him, always emphasizing the birth of Christ rather than the appearance of presents under the tree. Besides, we didn't have a fireplace in Long Island, and who ever heard of a Santa who came in through the door? One year, when I was in first grade, I told my mom that I was going to believe in Santa. She said okay, sure. It lasted about a week.
I was, however, a firm believer in Narnia. When we would go to friends' houses, I would look in every closet and touch the back wall, just to make sure. When I got back from Oxford [after my junior year of college], my dad looked at me and said, "Did you go looking in closets for Narnia?" I kind of rolled my eyes and then said yes...I did. I still believe in Narnia.
When I think of Narnia during Christmas time, I think mainly of a long-term Advent. A hundred years, in their case, waiting for Aslan. For us, here and now, this season reminds me of the fact that we are in a perpetual Advent, waiting for Christ. Waiting for justice, and peace, and love...It is especially apparent here in Camden, where the devastation of poverty and violence has taken over. Camden's new heaven and new earth will be a long time coming. In my community, Andrea calls what we try to do "practicing resurrection,"* taking things that are dead and raising them to life. A greenhouse in the middle of one of the most polluted areas in the city, where 60% of children have asthma from the poor air quality. Gardens and composting where trash litters the streets. Arts and theatre where beauty seems to have been drained out of life. My boss has a little card on her desk that says, "We will plant olive trees where before there were thorns." In Camden, the waiting for Christ's birth is more than opening the slots on the Advent calendar (though we do that, too). It is waiting for newness. The upside down kingdom, if you will--I always think of Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation."
Narnia had its hundred-year winter melt away with the coming of Aslan (and Father Christmas as well; can't forget him. Always winter and never Christmas, gone forever). And we wait, as they say at Mass, "in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ."
*stolen from the initimable Wendell Berry's Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front
(Also, apologies to my non-Christian friends reading this. I realize the furor around Christmas can be a bit much.)