Looks like there’s a new tradition to ring in the Christmas season. The newly popular custom is the traditional wringing of the hands over all the competing and corrupting agendas that have taken over Christmas. Certainly there are explanations for this reaction – the season and its story have been shaped by a variety of different narratives, not all of them helpful. In some cases the story has been distorted (e.g. by the consumer narrative) but not all of what has happened to the season is bad (like making space in our pluralistic society during this public holiday season for the stories of other faiths).
So is it a lost holiday? Shall we lift up a chorus of moans instead of tidings of joy? I’m not willing to give Christmas up and I don’t think scolding is the best corrective. I’m still holding out for something of the goodness of Christmas celebrations, our singing and decorating, shared meals and parties, giving and receiving, for throwing a good party and really celebrating the joy-filled story. And here’s a critical learning for followers of Jesus – we don’t need to bash someone else’s celebration to enjoy Christmas. This is not a zero sum holiday, no other contenders allowed. That just puts a scowl over Christmas joy.
In fact, isn’t the best way to maintain the integrity of Christmas by celebrating it well and fully?
But we do need help and thankfully the church has an ancient resource that can focus followers of Jesus on the quite radical story of God entering time and space to redeem the world. That good resource is this peculiar season of Advent.
Advent is the four week season of preparation that precedes December 25. It’s a quiet, reflective and somber time. That certainly seems out of sync with what happens all around is in the month of December and that’s part of its gift.
Advent is like a needed abrasive cleanser for our Christmas season, scrubbing away frothy sentimentality and confronting judgmental spirits. It’s John the Baptist getting in your face, calling you to get in line with the way of Jesus. It’s a time for repentance from all the ways we live out of sync with the coming King. It’s the recognition that our need for help is way greater than we ever dared think.
It readies us to celebrate and embrace the story of God’s revolutionary hope in Jesus.
Somewhere in the bustle of wrapping paper, packed malls and the inevitable squabbling about “holiday trees” and “winter carols,” we’re missing out on the wonder of God’s generosity, entering our darkness in Jesus, including us in his good plan to make all things new, bringing light and hope and joy to all.
I’m convinced that a focused Advent practice has the stuff to get us in the right frame of heart for a proper Christmas celebration, aligning us with God’s story of self-donation, allowing it become more than a footnote to the season but the rhythm of our lives.
And if not, maybe we should celebrate Festivus instead and hold Christmas in August.
P.S. The publisher of my book Seeking God’s Face is making available the Advent season of readings for free. You can download it here or buy it here.