Christianity is both material and spiritual all year round so I am not of the thinking that Advent somehow drags us down or steals away from the joy of Christmas.
An obvious emphasis of Advent is the Second Coming, the Day of Judgement. This may seem a bit frightening or too abstract or too far away from us but the Scripture readings in Advent always come around to Christ. "The Lord is near" is a comforting message, a sacramental and liturgical message that aids us in the preparation of the way of the Lord. He is preparing us. In Him we are prepared. John the Baptist plays a big role in Advent and although he has some quirks he does nothing less than point us to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In short, when we downplay Advent we downplay many Scripture readings that are not heard at other times of the church year.
This brief apology for Advent may or may not address what bothers some about the season but we cannot separate any season or the liturgy from the Gospel and Sacramental realities and joys that they bring. Let the hesitation toward Advent not be that we do not need or desire to be humbled at the coming of the Lord (is it that only the Lord needs to humble Himself for us?) It may also be that the Gloria in Excelsis, which is omitted in Advent, may have greater meaning and expression at the joyous Christmas celebration, much like, but not to the same extent of the Resurrection joy following the somber spirit of Good Friday. Neither celebration omits us from the daily and weekly celebrations throughout the year of the Lord who comes to us and gives us His gifts that we may have life in Him.
One Scriptural emphasis during Advent that is associated with the office of Vespers but that which may be enjoyed by Christians who do not have the opportunity is that of the "O Antiphons." These are the basis of the well known hymn, "Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel." The antiphons are appointed for each day from the 17th through the 23rd day of December:
Dec. 17 - O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).
Dec. 18 - O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.” (33:22).
Dec. 19 - O Radix Jesse: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1), and A On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).
Dec. 20 - O Clavis David: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” Isaiah had prophesied, AI will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (9:6).
Dec. 21 - O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1).
Dec. 22 - O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” Isaiah had prophesied, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (9:5), and “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (2:4) .
Dec. 23 - O Emmanuel: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” (7:14). Remember “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.” (description of each antiphon comes from: CERC, Dec. 17, 2008)
Advent again, one last time before the Christ-Mass!