I was sitting with Steve Jenks the other day and he was mentioning about how frustrating it is that Christmas stuff arrives so early. I reflected on how one year I was at a Wal-Mart and saw the stuff coming out in July! It is amazing how a simple somber celebration like Christmas turned into such a commercialized super-holiday centered on something that is so unchristian that often the message of Christ gets lost in the secular aspects.
One of the big issues with Christmas starting so early is the loss of a sense of waiting. Waiting and patience are two skills that are incredibly important for the Christian Experience. Traditionally, the Christmas season would start on Christmas Day and last until Epiphany; that is why our decorations will stay up until then. This was to obviously celebrate the birth, but Epiphany was a celebration of the witness and the power that so moved the wise men not to return to the king.
Before Christmas are four Sundays that mark Advent. Advent, like Lent, is a time of waiting. Over the weeks of Advent, we take time to reflect on ourselves, while building in excitement for the coming Christ. Both the self-reflection and preparation are incredibly important to gain the deep understanding of what happens with God.
First, and probably the more important of the two is the aspect of Advent that calls for reflection. This time of reflection is incredibly important since it is through this reflection that we come to understand our relationship and ourselves with Christ. When we look into our own souls, we learn about ourselves. When reflecting we see the areas that we need to give grace to others and ourselves and we begin to see where we might be struggling and need to ask for help, from others or God.
The second aspect of advent calls for patience. God’s time is not our time; this means that we are called to be patient. While Christmas only serves as an example, the patience it teaches is incredibly important for the patience that we need to learn in our relationship with God. Since we know the date of Christmas, we have a set goal, but when the rapture comes we will know neither day nor the hour. However, we must keep focused and have the patience to know that God has and will save us, but on His timeline, not necessarily ours.
As you can guess from what I have written, and if you pay attention to the readings that will come up through Advent, you will notice that Advent serves two Christian purposes. The first is to celebrate the birth of Christ, but the more important part is looking forward to the second coming. This makes it very apparent why the self-reflection and teaching on patience is so important, because more than anything else Christmas is about our eternal life with Christ, not a toy we play with only a few times or a sweater we will outgrow.
So what I like to do is think of Christmas as two different holidays. First, you have the secular one that is great in its own right. It helps build the community; it makes people feel nice and bears witness to Christian Joy. Secondly, we have the Christian holiday that is all about Christ. The important thing is to not lose the Christian celebration within the secular world. But that is one of the difficult parts of being a twenty-first century Christian, living in the tension of what and who God is calling us to be and a world that pulls us into a different value.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen