Frank Constanza was a minor prophet of sorts. He anticipated the popular new custom to ring in the Christmas season. It’s the now traditional “airing of the grievances” over all the competing and corrupting agendas that have “taken over” Christmas (think faux-outrage Starbucks red cup guy).
Maybe there are some explanations for this new tradition – the season and its story have been shaped by a variety of different narratives, not all of them helpful. In some cases the Christmas story has been distorted (e.g. by the consumer knock-off narrative), but not all of what has happened to the season is bad. In our pluralistic society, during this public holiday season, isn’t making space for the stories and celebrations of other faiths a good thing?
Here is a critical learning for followers of the one we celebrate at Christmas – we don’t need to diminish someone else’s celebration to increase our enjoyment of Christmas. This is not a zero sum holiday. Neither do we need people of other or no faith to be coerced into a celebration that is not theirs. All of this just puts a scowl over Christmas joy (again, think the tempest in the Starbucks red-cup).
So is it a lost holiday? Shall we lift up a chorus of moans instead of tidings of joy? Hardly! But all this finger-pointed scolding is not the way to a better celebration. Isn’t the better way to maintain the glory of Christmas by celebrating it with full hearts and with such beauty that others would want to join in the celebration?
Author Madeline L’Engle gets it right in Walking on Water:
We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
We need help to celebrate appropriately, and thankfully the church has an ancient resource that can focus followers of Jesus on the unimaginably good 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 stated today). It’s a quiet, reflective and somber time, which certainly is out of sync with all the glittery, syrupy happenings on offer in the month of December.
And that’s part of its gift. Advent calls the bluff on all the shiny, merry sentiment around us. The “against-the-grain” way of Advent is to name all that’s wrong, to admit to the shadow over life. It’s the recognition that our need for help is far greater than we ever dared think. We need the anticipation of Advent to enjoy the wonder of Christmas. We need the “in-your-face” call to repentance before we can appreciate the good tidings of great joy that God has come near to us in all of our brokenness.
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.
The ancient practice of Advent has the stuff to get us in the right frame of heart for a proper Christmas celebration. It aligns us with God’s story of self-donation, allowing it become more than a footnote to the season but the rhythm of our lives. It readies us to want that light so lovely we find in Christ.
And if not, maybe we should celebrate Festivus instead and hold Christmas in August.