Although it is now December, and we are well into the Season of Advent, it is not yet Christmas. I say this as a reminder to all those who may not have noticed. You could, after all, be forgiven for thinking Christmas was already here. I'm sure, for example, the Birmingham Christmas procession was lovely...but it was a Christmas procession and it happened ... ON THE SEVENTH OF NOVEMBER!!!
It seems to me this desire to begin our celebrations of Christmas early, rather than waiting for the 25th December and then allowing the celebrations to continue after it, is part of a wider culture, in which we have, collectively, lost our ability and our desire to anticipate. We have forgotten how to wait, forgotten that the end will be infinitely better precisely because of the waiting which precedes it.
Its not just about Christmas either, although it does become overwhelmingly obvious at this time of year. I have seen nursery and primary children "graduate", complete with cap and gown leaving little to look forward later; I recently heard of a family having a three-tiered cake for their baby's first birthday (and couldn't help wondering what their wedding cake would be like); "youth groups" which once catered for teenagers seem increasingly to be the domain of younger children; and I'm sure there are a multitude of other examples.
The most dangerous aspect of it is undoubtedly the credit culture, where a whole culture telling you that you don't have to wait has led to a spiralling personal debt crisis about which the entire establishment seems to be keeping its head firmly buried in the sand. It may sound like an exaggeration to equate putting up your Christmas tree on the first of December with the growth in the pay day loan industry, but I wonder if somewhere along the line they are symptoms of the same culture.
I am not saying I have got the balance right myself, in fact, I am fairly certain I haven't. Because although I have definitely not started celebrating Christmas yet, neither have I set aside enough time to actively anticipate the season to come (by which I don't mean getting my Christmas cards written, although that would probably not be a bad idea some time soon).
Waiting does not mean just "carrying on as usual for a bit longer before beginning" but actively looking forward. I think that is the point of the season of Advent in the church calendar: not to be a time of just carrying on as normal, nor to be a time to start celebrating Christmas already; but a time to actively look forward to celebrations to come; to live in the joyful hope of a future promise.
It is this "waiting in hope" which I fear we have somewhat lost and, although I don't know how, would like us to be able to collectively rediscover.