Tomorrow marks the first day of Advent, a Christian observance that marks the four Sundays before Christmas. It is a season of preparation that refers to both the birth of Jesus as well as the second coming of Jesus. It is a time to quiet our hearts and minds - to wait in anticipation. This year, as I put up the Christmas tree, I asked myself the point of all this Christmas "stuff" (meaning: trees, decorations, baking, presents, etc)... did any of this matter? And more importantly, for me, does any of this actually have to do with the reason I profess to celebrate Christmas?
We have so many demands for our time. Ironically, the weeks before Christmas are often filled with endless to-do lists, outings galore, credit-expanding purchases and much obligation in it all. How can I quiet my heart and mind when I'm so busy "doing" that I don't have a moment to just "be". Even in the best intentions to spread love and Christmas cheer, I feel overwhelmed with all that I had hoped to do and realize that it'll take me until June to get it all done. And as I strive to simplify the season I observe the world getting madder still and I feel all the more pressure. What has this season become?
I was bracing myself for the first holiday commercial to make its appearance and guess when it first aired... October. Yep, October. But stores had long before cleared their seasonal shelves to make room for boxes of Christmas lights and trees. Oh, I'm supposed to call it a holiday tree now, aren't I? And we can't forget Black Friday, a day of super sales that has people stooping to new lows as they literally fight one another to get a good deal on a new television. I'm pretty certain that if there are people being trampled to death in order to get a good deal, it's safe to say that we aren't celebrating "Christmas". What happened to "peace on earth, good will to men"?
I have wrestled with Christmas for quite a few years now, trying to reconcile traditions with what I think actually matters - and I keep finding myself asking, "What does this have to do with Jesus"? I have this feeling that if we all put away the trees and the tinsel, put our wallets back in our pockets, did away with the fairy tales, cast off all obligation and made time for advent - for actually preparing our hearts - we'd start to see Jesus in the season a whole lot more. I fear that we've created too many distractions and we say He's the reason for the season but our busyness says otherwise. And if we remove Jesus from Christmas then what on earth are we celebrating?
Two years ago a friend had forwarded me the following video, a movement working against commercialized, consumeristic Christmas. It is as relevant as ever. Just to be clear, I do not believe that Christmas trees, decorations, baking, sending cards and gifts, parties and all the rest are inherently bad - I partake in them all. I hope that you see that it all has to be entered into with the proper motivation. Why are we putting up the tree? Why are we shopping? And have we created space to enjoy this season of anticipation?
I am writing this today for myself more than anyone else. I want to figure out a way to slow down in the midst of the hustle and bustle (which, frankly, is one of my big life goals) of the season, making sure that my heart is still. My to-do list is still long but I will check in with my heart with each task, resetting my focus. And most importantly, I need to carve out more time to reflect and meditate on the miracle of Christmas - the astonishing, mind-blowing love of a God who saw us in need and came down to save us from ourselves. For this is Christmas.