How, like a salmon swimming upstream, does a Christian move against the almost overwhelming flow of our materialistic culture as it indulges in one of the most consumer-oriented, commercially immersed holidays of the year?
We’ve been through the catchy phrase phase of “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, but that didn’t help very much. We have steeled ourselves with good intentions, and organized lists. “This year” we will not get caught up in mad, irritable crowds of shoppers. Only to be faced with ungrateful store policies that outlaw the mention of “Merry Christmas”… because, well, you know… it might offend customers. Is the answer in putting a creche back in the capitol buildings? Singing the carols in the secular school plays? Wearing the red and the green? Will these things put Christ back into Christmas for us? What will?
I think I found the answer. And it is in the most obvious place: Advent.
Today was the first Sunday of Advent, and our family gathered around our own seasonal tradition of the Advent log. Ours is a little different than some in the details of how we celebrate Advent, but the fact that we do connects us with many likeminded Christians around the world.
Like no other time of year, as a family we make an effort to devote some minutes each day leading up to Christmas for a time of worship: saying a prayer, reading a scripture, sharing some religious songs- mostly Christmas carols, lighting candles. That is our core set of activities, with additions changing as our family matured, sometimes hit and miss with the competition of other Christmas hustle and bustle. It is an effort to settle in for the quietness and presence of such an act: sitting down together, centering thoughts on God and His wonderful gift. It is a well chosen effort and time given, that I can tell you. The story of our first Advent log.
The effect of it is to make a place for Christ, and find how perfect a fit He is for the center of Christmas celebration.
However, there was more for me to discover in Advent this year. In preparing devotional posts for the endeavor I started some years ago, of making a blog that functions like an Advent calender, I found myself renewing my acquaintance with the Savior in a deeper way. This year in contemplating God’s promises (the theme chosen for 2009), I was surprised how revived my soul felt after searching through the scriptures. How much it has impacted my focus during the season already!
Enter into the ancient Church tradition of observing Advent, whether with a Jesse tree, or an Advent wreath, or simply with daily devotional time centered on the holiness of the season. Let it be “set apart”, which is the meaning of “holy” for your consideration of the meaning of this beginning of the gospel story.
If you do not have your own Advent tradition I invite you to share mine. Advent Blog 2009
Here are a few thoughts:
Advent in the way it was originally conceived was not a flurry of bustling activity. It was a preparation of the soul much like that expected in Lent. The symbolic colors of Advent, purple, white and pink, were more those of the liturgical season of repentance and the practice of fasting was encouraged. There are vestiges of that in the Christmas Eve fish menus of some cultures. It does not, however, need to be the somber attitude that awakens the heart to the magnitude of God’s gift in Christ the Savior, but one of a little self discipline. That of taking time to give some devotional thought to the gospel account of these events which we celebrate on Christmas Day.
Some of this discipline is also threaded into the warp and weft of Christmas, in the personal sacrifice for others, the acts of charity towards the poor and afflicted of life, the decided cheerfulness and kindness that marks the season. This is when Christ truly takes His place in Christmas.