At this time of the year, the line between sacred and secular blurs. Christmas will not arrive for almost a month, and yet many Americans act as if it is already here. I believe that Christmas has come and will come again, and I eagerly anticipate the beginning of the Christmas season each and every year.
Still, when I think about how we, as a nation, celebrate Christmas, I find myself laughing at how absurd some of our celebrations are. Our timing is off, and there is much, much more to the story than shopping and social gatherings (though I readily admit to appreciating all of the above).
To do the bulk of one’s celebrating before December 25th is to give more attention to Mary’s pregnancy than to Jesus’ birth. Mary’s role in the grand scheme of things should be celebrated. However, there is much, much more to the Christmas story than a stable functioning as a labor and delivery room.
The story of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ does not end on December 25th; it becomes exponentially more demanding and thrilling.
This year, the friction between the Christian and secular calendars feels especially warm since the first Sunday after Thanksgiving did not fall the First Sunday of Advent. As the culture set its sights on Christmas as soon as the turkey was removed from the Thanksgiving table, the church stopped itself from joining the mad dash toward Christmas long enough to savor the highlights of the past liturgical year (or at least we tried to do so).
The question that I find myself asking myself this morning is: How will I pace myself—personally, professionally and spiritually—so that I arrive at Christmas fully alive and fully aware of Christ’s presence? I am tempted to adopt an Advent discipline in the same way that one gives up or takes on something for Lent, but I am opting for something slightly less structured than a Lenten discipline.
This Advent, I am striving to do something that God calls us to do every day and every season of our life, and that’s give thanks. In a crude sense, rather than drag Christmas into Advent, my goal is to drag Thanksgiving into Advent.
Gratitude is already part of my daily spiritual discipline, but this Advent, I hope to be self-aware enough to “take five” whenever I feel myself getting overwhelmed or distracted by the excesses of the season. By “taking five,” I mean that I plan to step back and give thanks that:
- God fulfills promises. Preaching the prophets will help me to remember that in a substantive way (and perhaps help me to help you to do likewise).
- Prophetic voices still speak. In every age, God raises up men and women to proclaim the gospel in ways that forward-thinking and future-looking people of faith appreciate. The challenge for us, as members of the 21st century church, is to identify and to listen to these voices.
- God is still God. Midst of the cacophony of voices who reduce Christmas to an exercise in commercialism or who ignore the intrinsically spiritual message of the season, it is truly invigorating to focus on that which truly matters, which is God’s desire to relate to, and to redeem us, as human beings.
- Scripture is still Scripture. Jesus Christ, who was revealed to the world at the first Christmas, is still most clearly revealed in the Old and New Testaments. At Christmas, and at any time of the year really, it is in our best interest to spend quality time inside of the stories through which we experience God’s love.
- The gospel of Jesus Christ is relevant in an ever-changing world. By becoming flesh and dwelling among us at Christmas, God does not retreat from the world. God embraces the world so that it may be transformed.
I pray that this Advent will be one of preparation for much more than parties and presents for you and for me. There will be plenty of time to celebrate (and I trust that each and every one of us will do that in ways that foster good cheer). There will also be plenty of time to step back from the hustle and bustle to “take five.” The question is: Will we do it? I pray that we will.