Countdown to Christmas: Day 1.

My friend Brian says faith is learning to live in “hopeful expectation.” It’s a phrase I keep turning over in my brain. Sure, we all have expectations: for our families, for our personal lives, for our holiday experiences. The tenacious planners among us look for ways to will those expectations in to reality. And the hardened cynics will expect things to unravel again, as they always seem to do. Expectations come in both positive and negative wrappers.

But when we wrap our expectations in hope, or clothe our hope in expectation, we put flesh on anticipation. We don’t just expect an event will transpire. We expect it will occur with a measure of beauty, even wonder.

This is the heartbeat of Advent. 

Christ is coming. 

His pending arrival promises us peace, goodness, light and redemption. And nothing reminds my family that Christmas is coming quite like music. Yes, we’re the family that dials into the all-Christmas, all-the-time radio station the day after Thanksgiving.

It’s been said that music taps the unconscious recesses of the human soul. So maybe the way we choose to listen to our Christmas music can tip the scale from a backwards looking nostalgia, to a forward-looking hope-laced expectation. Here’s my Christmas inspired playlist, my countdown to Christmas advent devotional. My prayer is that it will prompt to believe, believe anew and believe again.

Song No. 1: Santa Claus is Coming to Town

I grew up on the Bruce Springsteen version of this one. Something about the opening piano chords and jingling sleigh bells immediately propel me into the Christmas spirit. It’s a simple, magical and contagious song. Hundreds of artists have covered this tune since its original writing in 1934.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” It’s an anticipatory declaration. And the implication? It’s going to be a good thing. At least for those who were nice and not naughty. Springsteen’s version includes this basic line, about Santa coming to town, over twenty times. But it never seems to get old. 

Santa’s coming. 

Santa’s coming. 

Santa’s coming.

And Santa’s coming demands something: diligent preparation. After all, he sees me when I’m sleeping. He knows when I’m awake. He knows if I’ve been bad or good, so I better be good… for goodness sake! The announcement of Santa’s approaching is a clarion call to clean up our acts. We may be running out of time.

Of course, if we’re not careful, the inverse is also true. Come December 26, act however you want. Santa has left and we’ve got an eleven-month window for rampant and reckless behavior.

But if Jesus is coming to town, what then? 

What does our preparation for the Christ-child look like? Do we engage in immediate behavior modification out of fear of punishment? Or greed for reward? 

Or is the first prayer of Advent a centering prayer, one that we pray at the stoplight, searching for that parking at the mall, on the way to the office holiday party: Christ is coming. Christ is coming Christ is coming.

 And maybe for Day 1, that’s all we need.

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Craig Custance