Whether you love the Christmas kitsch or hate it (I used to turn up my nose, but I’ve come around), it’s easy to become the wrong kind of lost in it. The gift-buying stress, the work and travel plans, the thousandth new rendition of “All I Want for Christmas is You” - one I do still hate - if we’re not careful, the season can just vanish in a whirl of lights and bells and snowman cookies.
And for Christmas curmudgeons like I used to be, harrumphing around the month is just as unproductive.
I’ve come to accept the glamor and the sappiness, because it overlaps with one dimension of the Christian Advent season. Advent (from the Latin for “arrival”) is, like the commercial Western version, a time of celebration, because something magical really did happen at the first Christmas: God the Son, the second person of the divine Trinity, really was born as a human being. And all the goodwill and the pomp and the feasting are just right for the birth of a baby king. The deep human hungers at the heart of even the cheesiest of the season - close families, care for others, peace on earth - are possible, and they are made possible by the the birth of Jesus.
But Christians shouldn’t get less of the holiday spirit than everyone else; we get more. Because Advent isn’t just a celebration of what has happened; it’s also a season of longing for the completion of all those hopes. Taken the wrong way, Christmas can be a time where we whitewash or paper over the real problems we do still have. “From now on, our troubles will be out of sight” is a nice sentiment; but not, you know, in any way connected to reality. And the joy of the season itself can make the sufferings of loss or need even more painful rather than less.
Our world won’t be complete until Jesus comes back - his second Advent - and finishes the work he began. He will make all things right; he will put an end to grief and need and all pain; but that hasn’t happened yet. So we do celebrate, but we also long for the completion of the work, the full coming of the Kingdom.
So what could it mean to live up the Advent season in light of these things?
Take special time for loved ones, AND special time for God
Party with your friends and family. Dust off that tacky sweater. Let the joy of the season overflow with cocoa, snacks, and all the rest of it. Show the festivity of people whose good king, and whose eternal king, has been born.
And, ground yourself by devoting special time to be close to the king we’re celebrating. Remember his story, live into his story, and reflect on how you’re a part of it.
This Sunday, we’re publishing an Advent devotional written by Soma members, that includes Scripture meditations and prayer points for each day of the season. Or find your own, or read through the narratives of Jesus’ birth; but try beginning or ending each day by giving attention to God.
Enjoy yourself, AND give yourself to others
Don’t be a curmudgeon. Enjoy your favorite Christmas movie. Crank the holiday station. Marvel at the lit-up trees.
At the same time, let the generosity of God lead you a little more out of yourself to look out for others. We’d love for all our people to stretch themselves and give toward our Advent offerings, to bless those around us; other organizations can help you provide food, gifts, or other needed things to people who can’t provide for themselves.
Celebrate with others, AND speak to their longings
This is a great season for block parties, open houses, and other shindigs to meet or get together with your neighbors. Look for parties in your community if you can’t throw your own. Let Christmas festivities give you opportunities to build deeper relationships with people you might not otherwise have in your home.
And, remember that everyone has a deep longing for God, and this season can bring that to the surface. People may have pain or sorrow that’s made worse by the cheer around them. They may have a fresh longing to be close to God, or be reconciled to a loved one, or be in church again. Push a step deeper with a neighbor or family member this season; listen for the longings they have, and think about how you could listen and talk to them with compassion. Invite someone to a Christmas service.