Every year people look forward to the Christmas season but every year the Christmas season inspires a series of complaints. Some complain that the stores break out their Christmas declarations too early; oblivious to the fact that without the Christmas season many brick and mortar establishments would go out of business. Others (granted only a precious few) complain that Starbucks coffee cups fail to adequately express the real meaning of Christmas. I think that these gripers have a point. After all Mary and Joseph surely drank their coffee from goblets engraved with Micah’s words about Bethlehem. Perhaps most amusing of all, there are ministers of the Gospel who have been trained to complain that their congregations want to sing Christmas carols in December. These preachers are scandalized by what they view as a spiritual faux pas as if they didn’t understand that if God actually would meet us as a baby in a small-town stable, he probably is not too upset that we want to sing about it a month early.
None of this makes sense – or maybe it does. Maybe the real problem is that whether we are Christian, atheist or something in between, we all want Christmas to mean something and we Christians believe that it does. Unfortunately, most years the Christmas season rushes by and we are left feeling that we have just missed something we desperately needed and we want another chance.
If you sometimes find yourself in this situation I would like to recommend that this December you take seriously the season of Advent.
What is Advent? Advent is a religious season that the church began to teach Christians to observe just a few centuries after the resurrection of Christ. Thus, just as the season of Lent prepares us to celebrate Holy Week and the resurrection, Advent is a season of reflection that prepares us to celebrate the birth of Christ.
How does Advent work? The simple answer is that Advent follows the ancient pattern of many Christian and Jewish holidays. It encourages us to “fast”, literally or figuratively before we “feast”. This doesn’t mean that we must walk around in sackcloth and ashes and refuse go to Christmas parties. Instead we are encouraged to do things like this during Advent:
- set up a nativity scene
- regularly attend church
- read scriptures related to the coming of the Messiah
- help our neighbors or the poor
- listen to, sing or play sacred music
- reflect on the brokenness of the world and the promises of the Messiah
- delay fully decorating our house
- prepare and enjoy traditional holiday foods
- concentrate on the thought that we are patiently waiting for the birth of Christ
There is no “perfect” way to keep Advent but if this December you make a point of thinking about what Christmas means and trying to prepare your heart, you will find no time to argue and complain about how to keep Christmas. You will be too busy celebrating it.