It is almost that time of year again. I say almost because although the advertisements and store displays would tell us we are smack dab in the middle of the season, Christmas has yet to arrive. I have a difficult time relating to the Christmas season, like most adults in our hyper-commercialized culture. It’s hard not to be cynical when we see Christmas decorations being put up around Halloween.
As I’ve gotten older, I have lost the sense of wonder I once had as a child at Christmas. I’ve tired to make up for it with a modern mixture of materialism and sentimentality with a splash of spirituality but the season just turns out flat. For me Christmas can be something shallow and empty, wrapped in paper and stuck under the tree. It’s sad to admit but we have made Christmas into a parody of itself. The meaning of Christmas has been lost, but let’s be honest—we have been on this trajectory for years.
On December 9, 1965 the animated television special A Charlie Brown Christmas aired. Even then Peanuts’ creator Charles Schultz was concerned that Christmas was being over shadowed by marketing, blinking lights, and silver plastic tinsel. In the middle of a school Christmas program Charlie Brown cries out in frustration from center stage, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus eases Charlie Brown’s anxiety as he stands and recounts the story of the Nativity from Luke’s Gospel.
With the same certainty as Linus, author Greg Pennoyer reminds us in the preface to the devotional God with Us that Christmas is
“the feast of the Incarnation, which is the mystery of God with us in the flesh. When we cut through the sentiment and marketing to the spiritual riches of Christmas, we recover not only a sense of who God is, but also who we are as humans beings. But recovery cannot happen in a day.”
Embracing the wonder of Christmas requires that we remove ourselves from the flashy rivals for our attention during this time. Advent is the respite from the excesses of the the season that our souls need. I find that it is essential for me as I prepare my heart approaching Christmas.
The word Advent means coming or arrival which seems odd when we don’t actually expect anyone to arrive. We usually mark the season by looking back two thousand years to remember the birth of Christ. This is certainly Christmas but just a part of it.
The word ‘Advent’ also indicates another arrival that has yet to happen—the second coming of Jesus. To celebrate the true meaning of Christmas is to prepare ourselves for both arrivals: Christ, the king of kings, who was born in a manger, and the same Christ who is yet to come and will return to make all things new.
In Advent for Everyone, the devotional our church will read this season, N. T. Wright writes,
“The ‘second Advent’, overlaps with the first. We celebrate Jesus’ first coming, and use that sense of fulfillment to fuel our hope for his second coming and to strengthen us to work for signs of that kingdom in our own day. We live between the first Advent and the second. That is one way of saying what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”
Let me encourage those who desire a change during this Christmas season. By redirecting your focus during Advent to Christ’s coming through reading, prayer, and reflection you can rekindle the wonder in this season. Let this be a return to childlike hope and joy as you anticipate Christ’s arrival.