The older, deeper, more accurate meaning that Christian civilization attached to the season is, as many Orthodox Christians describe, “Little Lent” – weeks of fasting, self-denial, introspection and prayer. The celebration and festivity is later – the feast after the fast in the biblical sense.
The writer G.K. Chesterton said in his work, “Orthodoxy,” “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.”
In the Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis and Friends’ little book of Advent reflections Chesterton is paired with the Apostle Paul’s well-known entreaty in the Letter to Philippians (2:1-13), “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
In short, the season of Advent (and Christmas following) is not much about us but about the Gospel – the Good News in Jesus Christ, and how it reshapes people from self-indulgence to self-discipline, to service, to compassion, to generosity, to hard work, and to good works.
And, it is not at all curious that the people who are usually seen by others as busiest, happiest and most fulfilled live a life for others more than themselves.