My latest for the Longview News-Journal
Every year the routine is the same. After the celebration of Thanksgiving, the mad rush to Christmas begins. Amid the lights, parties, gifts, and presents, it is hard to remember the “reason for the season.”
In the Christian liturgical calendar, the time leading up to Christmas is known as Advent. Advent comes from a Latin word which means coming. It is a special and holy time marked not by the yearning to out rush and buy more things but an inward reflection of the coming of Jesus the Christ.
During this time, we are called not to run to the manger but to wait… that’s right…. wait… for Christmas. Sure, some people have decorated their entire house on November 1, but Advent calls us to slow down, be more reflective and wait. It is through this intentionality that we begin to see and experience the message of hope, peace, love, and joy in our own lives and the world around us.
There is something freeing in slowing down. We are able to take in all that is around us and see how God is moving in our lives in ways that we would have looked right over had we not taken a moment to be aware. This notion, however, is not something that is propagated in our modern American society. Our calendars fill up months in advance with appointments, parties, school functions and extracurricular activities. The thought of slowing down especially during December seem completely foreign and even wishful thinking. Slowing down means being intentional about our time, being intentional about our activities and being intentional about our spirituality. Getting to the end of Christmas and missing the coming of Christ in our life would be a tragic thing. How many of us are not in the “Christmas spirit?” How many of us are not feeling like it is Christmas time? We are just going through the usual December motions: cookies, presents, songs, and trees. Advent’s goal is to guide is to a deeper and more personal connection with God so that when God appears we do not miss it.
Every year there seems to be a news story that surfaces regarding Christmas and society. There seems to be a tension that some Christians find each December. Last year an internet evangelist thought that Starbucks was trying to “erase Christmas” by having a solid red holiday cup. This year the President has declared that is it now “safe” to say Merry Christmas again. Merry Christmas has never been “illegal,” it has never been “off limits.” Schools and other public institutions have made decisions to be more inclusive during the month of December recognizing that there are more than just Christians in our schools and communities. This is not an attack on Christianity; this does not mean that we are being “persecuted” for our faith. This does mean however that we are aware that Christians are not the only gig in town. Does this diminish our faith? No, rather it a byproduct of a pluralistic society in which we find ourselves. Just because not everyone in our town or place of work celebrates the same way we do, does not invalidate our religious expression. Sadly, this is not the case for some people. “Merry Christmas” is the only greeting that is acceptable by a cashier at the department store or supermarket. “Happy Holidays” is seen as being “politically correct” and a modern-day swear word. No one is trying to eliminate Christmas; it is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world (it is even celebrated by non-Christians).
Why then is there a push for everyone to wish Christians a Merry Christmas, even if they do not celebrate the holiday? I believe that people’s desire for the over saturation of Christmas in their lives is because they have not found anything fulfilling in their spiritual lives during this season. We search high and low trying to find a connection with the Divine; we look everywhere even in the strangest of places hoping that we can experience God in a new and tangible way. If we say it enough or if we are told it by everyone we come in contact with, then maybe it will mean something more.
This Christmas cannot be like the last one; it cannot be devoid of connection with God. We can claim that’s it’s for the faith but it’s really for us. We want to connect to God, we want to connect to baby Jesus, we want Christmas to mean more than what we have made it out to be. Christmas has to mean more than boxes, lights, Santa, and food, right?
Too many people get to the end of Christmas and wonder where did all the time go? Yes, the parties were fun, and the kids had a great time, but did we make room for the coming of Christ in our lives anew? Someone once told me that Christmas means to more to people when they realize that it’s not their birthday. We have made Christmas into a season of shopping, giving and hoping for our wish lists to be fulfilled. The origins of giving gifts were to model the gifts of the Magi as explained in the Gospel of Matthew. Today Christmas has become a time to show how much we love someone by how much we spend on them. We have removed the religious and Christian element of Christmas and made it into something that it does not need to be.
If Christmas is to be mean anything it has to begin with looking into ourselves and reflecting on how the story of the coming of Christ has changed our lives. This is not the job of the barista at Starbucks or the bank teller. These stories are more personal; I can not expect the cashier at Kroger to tell my story. I cannot expect anyone else but me to proclaim the ways that Christ’s birth means more than lights and elves on the shelf.
Let us all wait together for the coming of Christ again in our own hearts and minds. When December 25, comes and goes, will we be able to look back and say that we saw God moving in a way we never thought possible?
This is the miracle of the Christmas story.