Christmas Curmudgeon or Change Chairman?
Recently on a popular web-based social network, I was called “the chairman of the board for the campaign for Thanksgiving.” I suppose that honor fits. I have made a big deal in Sunday School and Church about Christmas not coming until after Thanksgiving, and that “chairman” comment came in the middle of a discussion about Christmas being celebrated too soon.
Truth be told, it’s not that I worry that Thanksgiving will ever lose it’s place in the pantheon of November holidays. I am sure that we will always remember Thanksgiving in some manner or another. The really irksome trend that I’ve observed over the years is that the “Christmas season” begins before the haunting echo of Halloween screams fade into the chill of autumn. In our mad societal rush to “The Next Greatest Thing,” the urge is to sprint from the Halloween “season” right into the Christmas “season.” I believe Christmas suffers for that, so much so that I have decided to cut the Christmas “season” loose to the masses. To those restless wretches teeming with “holiday spirit” in late October, I say, “Take the season! It’s yours. I’m done with it. I will honor Christmas Day, but you, do as you will with Christmastime.”
As for myself, I will retreat into the ancient Church calendar and seek solace in the season known as “Advent.” Where “Christmastime” begins earlier and earlier each year with the vagaries of the retail barons, Advent always begins (in the United States) with the first Sunday after Thanksgiving. Technically speaking, the beginning of the Advent season follows “Christ the King” Sunday, the last Sunday of the traditional Church calendar. In that respect also, Advent differs from “Christmastime.” Advent marks the beginning of the Church calendar year. “Christmastime” is society’s end-of-the-year “blow out.”
The word, Advent, comes from the Latin word, adventus, which is itself a translation of the Greek word, parousia. In Greek or Latin, the words mean “coming.” Advent is to be a period of preparation for His coming. Advent is placed on the calendar just before Christmas so that we may remember the ancient Hebrews’ longing for their Promised Messiah, but the gist of Advent, for the New Testament Church, has always been in making ourselves ready for Jesus’ Return, His Second Coming. From the fourth century on, the 40 days beginning with November 11 were a period of strict fasting, much like Lent. While those traditions have faded away, many churches still view Advent at a time of repentance and soul-searching. Considering Christ’s much anticipated return, the idea of Advent is that we should be ready.
You see, unlike “Christmastime” (even the “Christian” version that proclaims “We give because He gave,”) Advent reminds us that WE are the gift. Paul wrote the church in Ephesus that Christ “loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27, NKJV)
So, at this Advent season, I am reflecting upon the only gift that matters after Jesus gift of Himself for the Church. That is our gifting of ourselves to Him. Indeed then, “We give because He gave,” but not of things; in the wallet-opening, debt-inducing manner or the retailers, but of self; in the heart-cleansing, sanctifying manner of the saints of old. How’s the sanctification and cleansing going for you? Have we, perhaps, gotten so caught up into things that are not of God that we are in danger of becoming a “spot” or a “wrinkle” on the Body of Christ? I pray not. Instead, I welcome this season of Advent as a period of reflective anticipation of Christ’s return. This is a time for us all to prepare ourselves to stand in His presence. We initiate that preparation with repentance and prayer. Here’s to the Spirit of Advent doing it’s work in all of us.
Anticipating the parousia and praying for you this season,