We are well into the Christmas season now. There are less than 3 weeks left before Christmas Day. How’s it going for you? Are things falling into place? Is there time enough for you to do all that you need or want to do? Are you winning the spiritual/commercial tug-of-war that always seems to come with the holiday? No? I bet you are not alone.
For many years I ignored Advent – the season in the Christian church that is intended to help believers prepare spiritually for the holy day of Christmas. I chose to ignore it because it seemed to me that Advent wreathes, candles, prayers,songs or devotions were too time consuming. Observing Advent was just one more thing to do, one more obligation, one more expectation to jam into the family schedule. I felt I could manage the spiritual side of the Christmas scramble better without trying to get all high church-y. So, ‘Bye bye, Advent’.
Then one year, Christmas Eve came and I realized I hadn’t spent one minute preparing myself or my family to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas – not one. It was shocking. “How did this happen?”, I wondered. It didn’t take long to figure out that I had made a mistake when I eliminated Advent from our family’s life. I saw that focusing on the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t happen by itself. Over the years I had gotten sucked into the secular culture’s Christmas style: it was becoming just another holiday to our family, rather than being a holy day. I found I could relate to the discovery of the Grinch in the book by Dr Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” when the Grinch says,
“It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
I learned my lesson. The following Christmas, and every other Christmas since, has included the observance of Advent. Now the scripture reading that seemed to be time-consuming has turned into a time of comfort; the songs that felt like an obligation have become a source of relaxation; the lighting of the advent candle which I thought of as ‘one more thing to do’ has become the one thing that is worth doing.
It’s easy to lose your way in the helter-skelter of the Christmas season. It’s easy to get ‘holy day’ mixed up with ‘holiday’. I know now that making use of the structure which Advent gives to this time of year is a not a rigid ‘high church’ scaling wall, but a matrix of inspiration through which I can filter out the bombardments of distractions coming from every direction. It gives me the freedom to focus on the whom of the season, not on the what. I think the Christ of Christmas is the ‘little bit more’ that the Grinch is puzzling over, but I also believe Christ is not a little thing, but the main thing. And Advent helps us remember that.