05 Dec Advent first, then Christmas?
December 5, 2019 Advent first, then Christmas?
The theological concept of Advent is largely lost on America’s secular culture. Even among church-type folks, several denominations do not observe Advent. Like the rest of society, as soon as the turkey carcass has been tossed into the soup pot to make the likes of turkey wild rice soup or turkey spaghetti, Christmas is in full swing: decorations deck the halls and Christmas carols fill the sanctuary as well as the car.
I love Christmas music and my playlist was raring to go this week, but that does not mean I don’t recognize that we lose something when we bypass or minimize Advent and go straight from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Advent is intended to help us enter the Christmas season more deeply and with greater appreciation which is possible when we first set aside four weeks to wait and listen to the prophet’s cry in the wilderness inviting us to slow down, reflect, and prepare the way of the Lord.
I am not an Advent purist. There are some pastors and churches that adamantly refuse to sing Christmas carols before Christmas Eve or decorate the church early in the month. At my church we do something of a hybrid, singing Advent songs early in December and gradually adding more Christmas hymns as the month progresses. We will decorate the church after the worship service this Sunday which is more of a logistical decision than a theological one. But both in worship and in my personal faith journey, I am intentional about the waiting and preparation that Advent highlights.
This intentional focus often leaves me with more questions than answers, and I am okay with that since I think it is the conversation and reflection that are important, not having the “right answers.” For example, what does it mean for us as 21st century Christians in the western world to await Jesus’ coming? How do I need and long for Jesus to come to me this year—in my current situation, with the cares and concerns I am shouldering right now? What do I need to do to get ready for Jesus? Are there things I need to let go of, people I need to forgive, habits I need to face to create room for him to make an appearance in my life?
What does it mean for us to hear the angels’ message that Jesus is coming as the Prince of Peace? I don’t know anyone who seriously thinks we are going to experience world peace anytime soon—or maybe anytime at all. How do we claim—and proclaim—peace when there is civil war in Syria, Libya, and South Sudan; criminal violence in Mexico; wars in Afghanistan and Yemen; conflict in the Ukraine and among the Israelis and Palestinians; the Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabab in Somalia; not to mention the conflicts within our own families?
Yet, the experience and proclamation of peace is what Advent is really about, far more than the parties and presents, as much as I adore parties and presents. Could it be that this is exactly why we spend so much time, energy and money on events and gifts, because ultimately, they are so much easier than working for peace?
Let’s not hurry through Advent. There are gifts in the waiting and preparation that no amount of “shiny” can match.