Happy New Year! I promise I am not getting ahead of myself, skipping over Christmas and heading straight into 2020. In fact, this past Sunday I encouraged the children at my churches to come find me next week and be the first one to wish me a Happy New Year on Sunday, Dec. 1. I then taught them about the Christian Year.
For followers of Jesus who pay attention to a different calendar called the liturgical one, we are two days before the beginning of a season called Advent, which is the beginning of a new Christian Year. The Christian Year reorients our lives and seasons toward recognizing the way God is acting in our world and communities. We begin the Christian Year with Advent because we are recognizing Christ’s first coming as a child in the manger and also waiting for Christ’s second coming, the inbreaking of God’s kingdom here on Earth.
We sing the famous Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” as we wait together. It is a hymn written in a minor key to encourage our hearts to be contemplative to wait for the coming of Christ once again. Too often the season of Advent is overtaken by Christmas preparations. We do not do much preparing our hearts and minds for Christ in November or December. Instead, we are guilty of rushing right to the holiday celebrations instead of preparing our hearts and making sure we are ready to receive Christ into our lives once again.
Even Advent calendars have been taken over by consumerism, be it chocolate or stickers for kids, they are used as a countdown to Dec. 25 rather than a way to make sure we are doing something to prepare our hearts for the Christmas season. Oh, and yes, that brings me to another reality of the Christian Year. Christmas is a SEASON — 12 days long that starts on Dec. 25 and invites us to celebrate until Jan. 6,which is Epiphany. And during the Epiphany season, we are really invited to celebrate as that is when the wise ones found Jesus in the manger, being the first ones to recognize this new King of their lives!
Yet, I remember as a child that Dec. 26 was often the most depressing day of the year. All the gifts had been unwrapped, the food had been eaten, the carols sang and life was returning back to normal. We were (and still are) missing the point of Christmas! What if we spent the month of December waiting and watching, holding back on celebration but instead anticipating what it might be like to receive Christ the King once again into our hearts?
Often, it is said there is a “War on Christmas” in our country, but I do not see it that way at all. I see Christmas colors and decorations everywhere I go. I hear carols on the radio starting in November, well before Thanksgiving. I see stores fill their shelves with Christmas decorations as early as July. We start Christmas preparations earlier and earlier every year, it seems to me. I dare to say that there is a “War on Advent” instead.
We are not good at waiting, not personally or in our communities. We are a people who have been pretty accustomed to getting what we want when we want it. Think about it. We have the world at our fingertips these days. What did we do at family dinners when someone had a question about anything? We talked it out. We took our best guesses and eventually circled around to find out if we were on the right track. Now we just pull out our phones for the answer from Google. We do not like to wait. So, I challenge you in this season of Advent, this time around to slow down and watch and wait. Prepare your heart.
Stop checking off the shopping list and instead be present with those you love instead. Stop making sure each light is twinkling and instead be a light to someone who needs to know God’s love. Stop trying to make and do everything perfectly this season, and instead admit you need God’s help to slow down and reorient your life toward Jesus and his Kingdom that is coming. I pray that you will find the ways to recognize this season of Advent. We all need it, perhaps now more than ever before.