And so it begins—the preparation for Christmas is upon us. For many merchants, this preparation was very evident weeks ago. Many of our merchants depend heavily on a good Christmas season in order to salvage their year so I won’t we shouldn’t forget that when we sometimes gripe about how commercialized Christmas has become.
Having said that, the Christian Church recognized very early on the need to set aside a time for fasting and preparation for the actual Christmas celebration—the birth of the Christ child. It may have begun as early as the 5th century, but the observance of Advent ebbed and flowed over the centuries. No one, even now, pushes the idea of fasting during the Advent season anymore—small wonder with the number of holiday parties we all typically attend.
And so this coming Sunday will mark the beginning of the Advent season. Four Sundays prior to Christmas that allow us to try and focus our attention on what new thing God is trying to do in our midst. It marks the Christian New Year—starting all over telling the story of Jesus. I wonder why we Christians don’t take this Sunday to make our own, unique New Year’s Resolutions? Is it because we have capitulated to the secular culture that surrounds us? Are we afraid our friends and neighbors might snicker at us if they heard we were making New Year’s Resolutions in December? Why? Because then we’d have to explain why our faith causes us to view the world differently?
And there it is—the Advent Season is precisely a sign that we followers of Jesus really DO see the world differently. Or at least we are supposed to. Advent gives us a chance to imagine a different kind of Christmas. When we sing “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to ALL people” that is a statement to the world around us that we believe life is best lived that way. When we make it a point to encourage our members to support The Last Minute Toy Store that is a statement to the world that exchanging gifts just among ourselves is thoughtless and cruel and tone deaf to the misery and needs that surround us.
Advent is an opportunity for the church to make a WITNESS to the world—one of our 5 membership vows. There was a time not all that long ago that no matter where you tried to eat out on a Friday, you could be certain that there would be at least one fish option. Why? Because the Roman Catholic Church “fasted” from eating meat on Fridays and pretty much everybody knew it. You might be hard-pressed to find that emphasis today. Not that long ago our nation observed what were called “Blue Laws”—pretty much everything closed on Sundays so families could attend church and spend the day together. It was our way of observing Sabbath. The culture around us has swallowed such quaint notions whole.
And even though we won’t be turning the clock back on these traditions, I suggest that we CAN still observe Advent as a way of giving witness to the culture around us that there is another way to live. God’s way is a way of peace, of hope, of love. God’s way focuses on a quiet manger where we might meet and be met by God. God’s way involves giving much more than swapping “reasonably priced gifts”.
Welcome to Advent. “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”