It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . . sort of. Like many parents I’m sure, I find Christmas to be a bit of a mixed bag. I love the season and all that it entails. But I also often find it to be a stressful, busy time as I try to approach Christmas in a way that is consistent with how I as a Christian desire to live, and yet at the same time make it a memorable, joyful time for our family. Of course, much of the pressure at this time of year has to do with everything that is now associated with our celebrations of Christmas: gift buying, cookie baking, school concerts, church choirs, house decorating, craft making, family gatherings, turkey eating. Much of this is good. Much of this points to the significance of the holiday. But I find I can also get lost in all these good things and that as I become burdened and stressed the spiritual significance of the season has been drained out. In addition to this I also feel uneasy knowing that the problems in our world have not disappeared just because it is December, and that in fact our excessive celebrations contribute even more than usual to these issues. In light of these realities, I have felt over the years a desire to do Christmas a little differently. For me, a big part of staying grounded during this time of year is to observe Advent.
Advent has become the thread that pulls me through the season. As I immerse myself in the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ I find that my approach to the season shifts somewhat. These weeks of preparation and waiting both for the celebration of Christ’s birth and for his eventual second coming make a way to acknowledge the realities of our world rather than sweep them under the rug. The daily ritual of lighting candles, doing an Advent reading and singing a hymn remind me that all is not as it should be while at the same time pointing to a hope that is bigger than all the tinsel and gingerbread and twinkling lights. As we move through the weeks towards Christmas, the true Joy of the Saviour – God with us – takes on new meaning. The true Joy of God becoming flesh, and living amongst us. The true Joy of Christ’s overcoming the sin of the world through his death and resurrection. The true Joy of a Saviour who is still at work and who will come again and wipe every tear from our eyes. It is through our observance of Advent, these weeks devoted to reflecting on the state of our world and the coming of Christ, that I find the significance and Joy of Christmas has deepened.
Of course, even during Advent, the festivities of the Christmas season continue. Gifts still need to be bought, baking still needs to be done, trips to the mall are inevitable. Advent does not so much replace the good things associated with Christmas but rather puts them in their proper place. My prayer is that our observing of Advent will shape how we approach the rest of the season. That as I pray for Hope around the Advent wreath I will remember and cling to my belief that God is at work in the world even when I feel like despairing. As we pray for Peace we will then seek to be peacemakers at work and school and remember those for whom peace is a distant wistful wish. That remembering and reflecting on the Advent themes will affect our decision making as we buy gifts, figure out how best to contribute to others, and interact with family and friends. And all of this will culminate in Christmas – in our remembering and celebrating of Christ’s birth: The Word -Made-Flesh who is the ultimate Hope, Peace, Joy and Love for this world. Thanks be to God.