Dr Hayden Ramsay: Advent nostalgia and present realities

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Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Growing up in Scotland, Advent was the loveliest season. The days were dark by 3pm. The house was warm and morning windows were frosty; snow fell often and the woodland around the village was crisp when the rare sun shone. In winter, Advent candles made sense. People turned quieter, more inward. With few loud parties or busy shops, we prepared quietly for the brief winter holiday.

 

The pull back to home and childhood is very real; though not of course for all. It’s often rose-tinted and idealised. We call this nostalgia; a funny emotion: looking back, usually to a much-loved place or time, not with pain but wistfully and perhaps a bit sentimentally. It’s excusable as we age or when circumstances are hard and we wish (albeit not too seriously) we could just go back.

 

People standing up for Church teaching are often accused of being nostalgic about religion: ‘looking back to some golden-age; making things back then seem better so that today looks worse.’

Seeking out religion was a fairly urgent attempt to answer real questions, not cosy or sentimental at all. But others may well take solace in the religious practices of earlier days. Is that a problem?

I suppose there are some religious nostalgics. I’m not one myself. I grew up with non-practising Presbyterianism. Seeking out religion was a fairly urgent attempt to answer real questions, not cosy or sentimental at all. But others may well take solace in the religious practices of earlier days. Is that a problem?

 

Loving things from the past can be good. It’s clinging on to avoid important realities of the present that isn’t. And the faith is about the present.

 

It isn’t nostalgic to oppose a Parliament which bookended a pandemic with appalling abortion and euthanasia legislation. It’s not sentimentality that professes God became a baby at Christmas and will return in the flesh to judge us all. Or that we are unities of body and soul that cannot decide for ourselves what we are to be. The truths of faith and morals are for now. They’re not nostalgic and they’re too important to leave to sentimentality.


So what can we make of an Australian Advent? The greatest event in history already occurred: eight months ago the Second Person of the Trinity became an embryo in the womb of the Virgin. Advent is helping our minds gently accept this by letting our senses and imagination dwell on the decorations and songs and prayers of the season.


Those seasonal treats—what John Betjeman called ‘the sweet and silly Christmas things’—are no mere nostalgia but our path to the greatest truth ever told.