Last year I swore off the customary Christmas rant against the secularization of Christmas.
Let’s face it, there are and always have been two separate Christmas holidays, largely because of Christian, well, overconfidence.
The December 25th date for Christmas was chosen in an effort to co-opt or absorb major holiday celebrations already occurring on that date. Trying to merge the celebration of Christ’s birth with a drunken orgy was, to put it mildly, an ambitious strategy. Trying to merge the celebration of Christ’s birth today with a materialistic orgy is a similarly quixotic task. I don’t know why we should be surprised — much less shocked and offended — at the results.
So rather than destroy the Christmas spirit that informs both festivals by leading a scorched assault on the secular version, it seems best to proclaim the Christian Christmas, while separately celebrating the better angles of the secular version.
If there is suitable material for ranting this time of year, it pertains to the season of Advent. This is a season that is largely free of secular influence, and so should be an easy point of emphasis for Christians — a clear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yet, even without any competing entity, we seem to have surrendered the ground of Advent.
There’s an old Chipmunks song, part of which goes, “We’ve been good but we can’t last, hurry Christmas hurry fast! Another Christmas song goes even further in declaring, “I just can’t wait, I just can’t wait for Christmas.”
The Christmases are such an exciting time that we have trouble waiting for them. Christmas festivities long ago began spilling forward into November; now they’ve jumped ahead of Thanksgiving and you can even find them gearing up in October.
No, we can’t blame it all on secular corruption. Christmas trees used to be a celebration reserved for Christmas Eve. Now even our churches pop up Christmas trees in the worship space right after Thanksgiving.
We want to get to the good stuff. Now!
So where does that leave Advent, the time of preparation for the coming of Immanuel?
Advent ends up being the flimsy little cardboard guidepost that gets trampled in the rush to get to the Christmases — where the good stuff is! It’s probably happened often enough already that many folks don’t even know or remember what Advent is.
Granted we have issues with waiting in our “I want it yesterday” society. We don’t wait well. But we observe Advent for a reason, and it’s not just to give us time to get all the shopping and decorating and baking and office parties and Christmas cards and Sunday school programs and choir performances and other traditions, sacred and secular, squeezed in.
The key to Advent is patience. We don’t want our enthusiasm and excitement for the Christmases to trample that preparation time. Advent gives us the time we need to prepare our hearts and minds for the greatest gift in the history of the world.
If you’re feeling stampeded by the Christmas rush, try living in the present and focus on the Advent season. Advent services, rather than a Christmas holy war, are the way to bring clarity and sanity to this time of year. The services are not long, and they are, by design, quiet, meditative, and contemplative. They give us a time to step back from the Christmas frenzy, slow down, clear our heads, and put ourselves in a frame of mind to receive the and proclaim the true message of Christmas message.
The Christmases will be here before we know it. Will they be here before we are ready for them?