Christmas, a moment designed by the Church to remember the miracle of God becoming man, has drifted into an existential consumerism. It is about things and even more so trying to find meaning in the Christmas rush. The activities seem infinite; from parties, shopping, decorating, lights, feasting, ugly sweaters and modern music of All I Want For Christmas is You.
All these distractions serve the purpose of drowning out the deeper questions of life, meaning and purpose. In the mix of all this commotion, we can create an artificial reality offering no authentic solutions for what ails the human heart. We are lost in a make-believe world of Santa, reindeer, evergreen trees, snow and ice that melts away on December 26th and is discarded at our curbs for the next 11 months until we will gear up again for the modern Christmas excursion.
As Christmas has shifted into consumerism, the preceding Liturgical season of Advent has been lost in the shuffle. But what would happen if churches, whether high church liturgical gatherings, traditional congregations, or simple fresh expressions, devoted themselves to waiting for Jesus—not Santa?
Why Advent Still Matters
Advent comes as a season in the church year that can rescue us from a counterfeit Christmas and deliver us into a place of authentic hope. Journey is a common metaphor for life, growth and even spirituality. The Advent Journey is rich and if we are willing, will help us embrace a genuine understanding of the joy of Christmas.
Growing up in a church anchored in a liturgical sacramental tradition I was taught about the season of Advent. We had an Advent wreath and every night we lit a candle at dinner and we said a special prayer. Each week there was a little more light and with each candle anticipation grew. As a child, I understood Advent to be a countdown to Christmas, a way of marking the days until the most festive day of the year would arrive. Since I have come to appreciate Advent for being so much more.
In a world so fraught with peril, calamity, division, war, pain, suffering and injustice we need Advent as it recalibrates us beyond the latest viral, trending phenomenon and media spin. In an era where the majority of our culture is unchurched or de-churched, Advent offers an invitation to pause, consider, explore and connect with something beyond our daily routine and our self-centered focus. A rightly celebrated Advent has the power to liberate us from the materialism of the holiday rush and deliver us to a place of peace, purpose and meaning.
In an era where the majority of our culture is unchurched or de-churched, Advent offers an invitation to pause, consider, explore and connect with something beyond our daily routine and our self-centered focus.
The Advent Journey
There is a map, a guide to direct our steps in the Advent geography that eventually lands us in Bethlehem. This Advent GPS contains themes, focal points, guideposts and voices along the trail that will inspire, teach and reveal to us amazing things about ourselves, each other and the world in which we live.
Advent is anchored in Hope. Over the years, other themes were added for various candles but this is a more recent liturgical innovation. Advent is a season of hope and anticipation in the Lord’s coming; both in preparation of celebrating his first coming while our yearning is for the 2nd coming of Jesus and the consummation of the Kingdom of God. The coming of Jesus (first and second) changes everything including us. It is a global, universal, cosmic shift and we should all feel the reverberations. Advent reminds us: all we see is not all there is and there is a deeper, more profound reality to grasp and lay hold of in the midst of this life. We could all use more hope in our lives, especially in a troubled world.
Hope is the foundational focus; hope for a changed world, for salvation, redemption, deliverance. It is hope for the ministry of the Messiah, a time of; Good News, binding up of broken hearts, captives and prisoners are set free, God’s favor and comfort for those who mourn. Jesus comes to heal and make things new, to mend a broken world and make things right and just. This is an event worthy of our preparation and more so celebrating.
Advent Voices: Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary
Hope is reinforced in several voices of the Advent season. In Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, we are reminded of promises made that are soon to be realized. The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Darkness is dispelled, shadows disappear and light is manifest in the coming of Jesus.
Isaiah points to a manifest movement; we call this a Cycle of Light. Advent begins with a glimmer that grows brighter each week until we celebrate the Light of Christ coming into the world at Christmas. In the season of Epiphany following the 12 days of Christmas, light is made manifest to the whole world.
John the Baptist has a ministry of Preparing the Way. He is a forerunner, announcing to the world something is about to happen that transforms the very fabric of the world. There is a call for us to do the same. We prepare the way of the Lord by prayer and worship, devotion, repentance, self-reflection, study, charity. We cultivate the gifts of the Holy Spirit; kindness, compassion, mercy, joy, peace and love.
Mary’s life and example becomes a model for how we are to live. Her YES to God; Be it unto me as you have said, is a picture of ultimate discipleship. She becomes what the Greeks call Theotokos – the one who bears God. Again, this becomes our ministry and calling as well, we bear Jesus into a world in need of Good News and a Savior to redeem and save.
These Advent voices are reminders to inspire us to greater devotion to God and to serve humanity by loving our neighbor. Like looking through the lens of a camera, the words and stories of these saints position us to draw a sharper focus and that which was blurry becomes clearer as we take hold of our redemption drawing near.
What Advent Generates
We need the season of Advent to center our lives, as Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us… To throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
Cast aside the commercialism, the pressure to perform, the multiple tasks and demands of a worldly Christmas. Be still, pause, consider, contemplate and embrace the one who came because He loves you. We fix our eyes on Christ and He becomes the focus and filter for all we are, how we live, what we say and do.
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:8 that a Crown of Righteousness awaits all those who have longed for his appearing. As the quintessential Advent hymn declares: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. This is the promise of Advent, the appearing of our Redeemer and we are to remind the world this lies at the heart of what we celebrate on December 25th.
Celebrating Advent in All Sorts of Churches
A well practiced Advent makes for a meaningful and powerful Christmas. So, join in the Advent moments; light candles, cultivate hope, listen to Advent voices, you’ll be glad you did!