There are just times in life where I resonate with Charlie Brown, I ask, “Advent is a time of expectation and anticipation, but what am I expecting?”
And I hear in response, “Well Christmas …Duh.”
I look around and I ask, “Is that what everyone else is expecting?”
“So, these people burning themselves out shopping, gorging themselves on cheap music and bad movies, looking for the “new” and “exciting” holiday are celebrating Christmas? These people who will crash at noon on Christmas sick of the holiday, these are celebrating Christmas? Why should I anticipate such a holiday?”
This is where, like Linus for Charlie Brown, I am Divinely pushed toward the real answer to my question.
“you are not anticipating Christmas, you are anticipating Christ!”
To which I respond, “So what about Christmas?”
“These people do not celebrate Christmas they celebrate themselves under the name of Christ. They spend money to glorify themselves not Christ, they gorge themselves while never truly feasting, they go out of their way to reinterpret and reimagine the Holy day, so they do not have to confront it, and when it finally arrives they are sick of what they created, and they want nothing to do with it. Two weeks later there is depression and sadness because the holiday made in their image has failed.”
I would hope that it goes without saying this is a parody, though it is probably not as far from the truth as I wish it were. So often Advent is spent expecting food, fun, family, and gifts. We take in the nostalgia of holidays spent with those we love, we anticipate watching TV shows or listening to songs which merely trivialize the Christ story (that is if it is even mentioned). Some might even note some level of irony that I use perhaps the best-known Christmas television special to introduce this post. Why do I use it; because people can relate to it and relate it to Christmas. I know something must be wrong with the way we anticipate Christmas because people complain about being “Christmas-ed out” before Christmas actually starts. People are complaining about being burnt out by the preparation, and they never seem to get around to celebrating the holiday.
Advent is about preparing ourselves to be ready for Christ’s return, we celebrate Christ’s birth as a way of anticipation of Christ’s return. We understand that in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth God kept a promise to humanity that a savior would come. Because God kept that promise we can expect that God will remain faithful to Christ’s words that he will come again. Christmas is a way of saying that Christ will return because he came once. That means that Advent is not truly a season of expectation unless it involves us making ourselves ready for Christ’s return. Advent and even Christmas are about making ourselves and our world ready for the day of Christ’s arrival, not in the past, but in the future. The past merely helps us look forward, we celebrate what happened once because we are incapable of understanding fully what will happen.
Through all the pageantry are we really anticipating Christ, the one who came in the flesh two-thousand odd years ago and who will come again as King of kings? Do I work on cleansing my life so that I am ready and worthy to meet this King? This King does not seem to care much about pretty lights and ugly sweaters. He seems to care more about what the gifts we give cost your soul than about the gifts. Did you sacrifice patience or charity to buy the present, or perhaps, indulge greed? If so he does not want them, the price was too high. Do the cheap decorations keep you from helping others, or obscure the message of Christmas? Do the music and movies take you to Christ or pull you away from his presence? Does the season of Advent invigorate you to Celebrate Christmas with friends, family, and neighbors for 12 days, or are you so sick that half a day is too much?
How do we get out of the pop culture celebration of the “holidays” and enter into the celebration of Advent and Christmas? My journey began as I thought about the decorations I put up for Christmas. I began to ask what I was celebrating with each decoration and how it pointed me toward Christmas. There are still some decorations that I use because “they are pretty”, but most of them have significance. For instance, I love my Christmas village, it points me toward the places I have lived and what my ideal village would look like. And prominent in the village is a nativity. As I look at this village I am forced to reflect on how the village outside compares to the one inside and how I am working to align both to Christ’s ideal. As I listen to music I try to listen to music which inspires me toward Christ, again there is some that simply makes me laugh or has a pleasant feel, but most is inspiring. This music inspires me to take the music, and more importantly the message out to the world. As I prepare to feast I think about not simply friends and family, but those who I can invite to the feast who at this moment are merely potential friends. This is probably where the rubber meets the road for me, a plate of cookies does not spread the message of Christ, it only allows the me an excuse to sit and begin a conversation with a person. Inviting people to my feast only reflects Christ if it begins a relationship which develops as time goes on. Preparing for Christ’s coming is a driven endeavor to remake the world into a place fitting for the return of its true king.
May Advent be a time where each one of us is able to prepare ourselves for the coming King.