I suspect we long ago passed the one millionth sermon/bulletin/newsletter/blog by a pastor about it not being Christmas until December 25, so it hardly bears mentioning again.
Except that it matters.
I’m no humbug. I love Christmas, and I still manage to experience the little thrills of a favorite carol over the radio, setting up the tree, and trying to surprise a loved one with a gift. And I know I’m not going to change the culture. But I can–WE can–offer an alternative to it.
I’ve known congregations (very few of them Lutheran, thankfully) that start celebrating Christmas right around Thanksgiving (even one that decided it still should have Advent, somehow, so celebrated it in November). But let’s be honest–we’ll never out-Christmas the malls. They’ve got all the exciting characters–Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, Grinch, Ralphie (“you’ll shoot your eye out!”) and more. All we have is a homeless couple putting their newborn in a critter’s feedbox. And angels and shepherds, but they aren’t around long.
So what if we put forth what we do have going for us–preparation, anticipation, longing, restraint, and peace. For the world around us, the colors of the season are red and green, stoplight colors that perfectly express the hectic stop-and-go craziness that marks so much of these weeks. But within the church, the color is blue–the hue of the sky just before dawn. It’s the color into which people sitting in darkness stare to catch a glimpse of the coming light. The church is, or at least can be, a place where people can come to escape the frenzy and experience the nearly-lost art of waiting, the gift of silence, and the optic relief of staring not at millions of LED bulbs, but one more candle’s flame a week.
I know there are people looking for a little dose of religion this time of year–a live nativity, a Christmas cantata, candlelight and Silent Night. But what of the people dazed and crazed by the excesses of the season? Will we dare to be faithful enough to offer them an alternative, to show them a place where less truly is more? Where we hear God’s call to prepare not our houses and stores but our hearts and lives for the simply incredible good news that God so cares for this mixed-up world–even the tackiest, gaudiest, over-seasoned parts of it–that nothing short of entering into it and sharing the wonder of human experience would do to express it?
By almost all measures, Advent is simply weird–unusual, different, out of the ordinary. Which is exactly why we need it.
Or maybe I’m just an old humbug after all.
What do you think?