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‘Seriousness is not a virtue’

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Advent has become entirely too serious. We’ve replaced anticipation with obligation. In the name of preparing for Christmas (or celebrating it ahead of its time), we are adept at cramming absolutely every “good idea” into the four weeks before Dec. 25, and then we struggle under the weight of it all. Conditioned by the digital world of instant gratification, the expectation for on-demand merriment and brightly wrapped material abundance has replaced a season of hopeful anticipation. No longer are we lighthearted and rational and rooted in liturgy while — one candle at a time — we wait in joyful hope. It scarcely crosses our minds that we have choices in this season and we don’t really have to be all things merry to all people all season long.  

What Advent really needs is light. And “light” is such a perfect word in this case because both its connotations have a bearing on the discussion. We need Advent not to be quite so heavily burdened, and we need it to sparkle a bit more. We need it to be softer around the edges, kinder, more open to long walks in the cold night air to look at lights and less inclined to bustle and hurry and honking impatiently at traffic signals. With all the checklists and command party performances and acquisitions, the weight of the season is heavy indeed. For a season of canned merriment, it’s all too serious. 

It’s time to infuse Advent with more levity and less gravity. I admit to having a disposition that is weighted toward the serious side. And while I see the value of seriousness in many situations, I also understand what G.K. Chesterton was getting at when he wrote:

“Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It really is a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”

We need a little levity to fight the force of gravity; we need fewer Type A to-do lists and more quiet conversation and wide-open moments with no agenda but waiting with joy. The devil takes himself too seriously. He’s worried about posturing, about his own importance, about the things of this world. He’s worried about keeping up appearances and jumping through hoops. Advent isn’t really about any of that. It’s about Light. 

I see the irony in writing that I intend to take that quote very seriously this season. Still, I’ll write it. And mean it. This has been a heavy year. It’s had its share of darkness. We begin a new liturgical year ahead of a new calendar year, and we begin it with joyful anticipation of the Light of the World. Advent is the season that bridges us from darkness into the light. With the glow comes a lifting of the heaviness. 

Say “no” to the obligation to spend more, do more, hustle more. Begin with one candle — the one for hope — and then light another each week until Christmas, slowly and expectantly savoring the season because you look forward with hope to the joy to come. The light casts its glow, and darkness dissipates. Don’t let the weight of obligation rob this season of joyful anticipation. Unburdened, leap into laughter. Wait — unencumbered by heaviness — for the feast to come. In a world accustomed to instant gratification, there is lightness in the ability to reflect with anticipation on what we will celebrate. Wait as the light gathers. Wait and be delighted by the Christmas joy that follows a season that is lit one slow-burning candle at a time.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Northern Virginia.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019