Last year I had a passing conversation with one of my neighbors on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. She said, “Well, we’ve got to go do Christmas so I can take the tree down.” I continued on my way to prepare for Restoration’s Christmas Eve service later that evening but I was truly puzzled by the phrase “do Christmas.” I think she meant that her family was going to exchange gifts but it just seemed like such a perfunctory phrase from a woman who decks out her home and herself extravagantly for Christmas.
How are you going to “do Christmas” this year? What kind of “doing” will lead up to your celebration of the day? And in the end, what will it all mean? I know it seems a little early and Christmas is seven weeks away but I think this is the perfect time to make a decision and a plan for Christmas. In our worship and in our small groups we have talked about cultural liturgies and the liturgies of the home. There are many possible liturgies of Christmas but I want to offer you two for comparison.
Christmas Liturgy of Excess & Exhaustion
Hurry says the countdown box marking the number of shopping days left until Christmas. You need to buy now! You need to make Christmas memories! You need an extravagant number of gifts under your tree! Add a some holiday events: company parties, school programs, Secret Santa exchanges, movie marathons, and a half dozen bins of decorations that you need to drag down from the attic.
Maxed-Out! Maybe it’s your credit card, your emotional state, or both but you can barely make it to Christmas Day. You’ve already had it with Christmas things by the time you make it to the Christmas Eve service. You take a moment to remember that Christmas is about peace and love. And you sincerely hope that your family concludes from all the frenetic Christmas activity that Jesus is the reason for the season. But you are too tired to do another single thing.
Exhaustion hits right after the gifts have been opened. Christmas seems done. You kept up your family traditions, everyone got the gift that they wanted, and you had a few nostalgic moments along the way. Stuff the wrapping paper in the garbage. Distribute the leftover Christmas cookies. And draw straws to see who has to take down the lights and the tree. You’ve done more than enough Christmas for this year.
Christmas Liturgy of Longing & Joy
Advent starts with call of John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” And you respond with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to make you sensitive to the many ways we need Jesus to come restore our lives and our world. You set aside time to read the story of Israel anticipating the coming Messiah and remember that Christ has come once as a baby but he will return to us again as our King. You intentionally pace yourself all through the month of December to create a sense of anticipation for Christmas. Maybe you wait to decorate your Christmas tree, leaving a bare tree in your house. Or you light an Advent wreath each night to kindle a longing in your heart for the arrival of Jesus.
Christmas is one the most holy days of the year for Christians and you set the day apart for worship. The object of your longing is finally here—God is with us! All of your waiting has been centered around Jesus and so is your celebration. You keep some family traditions but you also make new ones. Perhaps you create a nativity play with your family or throw a birthday party for Jesus. Or you choose to keep your gifts simple and instead serve the weak and the poor because you want to love like Jesus loves because he has loved you first.
Epiphany is your permission to extend your celebration of Christmas into January. There is no shame in keeping the tree up and the party going all the way until the Feast of Epiphany on January 6. Jesus became a man and lived among us so take time to celebrate the goodness of his creation and the rich relationships you enjoy. Epiphany celebrates the Magi finding Jesus and the Gospel going out into the world to every nation and people. The joy of Christmas isn’t packed away for the year. Jesus is the light of the world today and every day.
How will you “do Christmas” this year?
The season of Advent begins Sunday, November 27 and Restoration will follow Tom Wright’s Advent for Everyone: A Journey Through Matthew through the season. Books all be available for $10 each.
Plan to worship with us for the four Sundays of Advent and for Christmas. We will have a Christmas Eve service at 6 pm and a very special Christmas Sunday Lessons and Carols service.