I grew up a Baptist. I’m still a Baptist. We didn’t know about Advent. All we knew was that Christmas was a celebration of Christ’s birth. We missed something in the process…
For many years, I’ve been concerned about how the church has allowed the world to give us guidance. And how we deal with Christmas is one of those areas.
Although the shopping season has gotten earlier and earlier, when I was growing up, Christmas arrived when Santa Claus waved at us from the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
After that it was a flurry of activity as we decorated, shopped for presents, attended parties, and prepared for Christmas music at church. Then, on Christmas Day…it was over. The food was consumed, the presents were open, and the garbage can was full.
One day I learned that the broader church throughout history had observed something called Advent.
Advent means coming, and to the church there is a dual understanding. While we prepare for the observance of Christ’s first coming, we recognize that we are also preparing for His second coming.
Now, I had noticed something along the way, and it wasn’t in church. I watched the Walton’s Christmas movie. Perhaps you did too. Did you notice that they didn’t even cut the tree down or decorate it until Christmas Eve? What?
In the history of the church, Advent has not been, nor is it, a time of celebration. Advent is a time of contemplation and introspection. In the time of Christ, the Jewish world was subject to the troubles of their times including being under the heavy hand of the Roman Empire and their vassal kings. They longed for the Messiah to come to set them free from their bondage. They were certainly not celebrating.
Today, in much the same way, we should take time to contemplate the world we are living in and the need for Christ’s love and compassion in our relationships. It’s a time for introspection as we examine ourselves and our relationship to Christ whose birth we are preparing to celebrate. Do our lives reflect Emmanuel, God with us?
Too often, as has been stated by others, we save our introspection until after Christmas when we contemplate how we’re going to pay the bills.
But, then comes Christmas Day. Now, let’s party! The promised One came to set us free from our sin. He came to give us abundant life. He even died that we could have eternal life. It’s time to celebrate. You realize that Christmas doesn’t end on the 25th. No, no, no! The church has set aside 12 days to celebrate.
What? You thought the 12 days of Christmas were leading up to Christmas? Too many do. No, the Twelve Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day. Even the song talks about gift giving on each of the 12 days. Of course, the greatest gift was on Day One – the Partridge in a Pear Tree – Christ the One and Only Savior of the World! Whoop, whoop! Are you ready to celebrate yet?
Now, I’m not going tell you to stop your parties and Christmas music. No, but I would encourage each of us to ponder, much as Jesus’ mother, Mary, did, in our hearts the meaning of Christ’s coming to the world and the implications it has for us. Perhaps we need time for introspection.
Then, when Christmas arrives, we might be ready to truly celebrate.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!
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