October 16, 2017

Skip the Carping This Advent

rick_wakeman_203_203x152.jpgI never heard about Advent growing up. Our church recognized Christmas, but anything else would have been too “catholic,” and we were fundamentalistic Southern Baptists. What I heard about Christmas was dependable preaching from the texts surrounding the birth of Jesus, the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for foreign missions, and a lot of negativity.

Negativity? Yes, there was plenty of negativity in the season of Joy. We heard a lot about how Christ had been “X-ed” out of Christmas. We heard of the evils of Christmas celebrations involving alcohol. We heard warnings about leaving Christ out of Christmas. We heard that most people had no idea what Christmas was about anymore. (Apparently things used to be better.) Eventually, we heard that if you stayed home from church for any kind of Christmas or New Year’s celebration, your salvation was probably questionable.

This eventually extended to Super Bowl Sunday night, but that’s another story.

The season of Advent- with all its traditions and customs- would have been a good idea in our church. We were intense about the meaning of Christmas, but not very interested in the kind of spiritual formation that would allow us to “keep” Christmas with our families and our children. It would have given us something to do besides complain.

Part of the Lottie Moon offering was a prayer guide for foreign missionaries. It’s still a deep part of my own spirituality too think about missions when I think about Christmas, and I owe that to those Lottie Moon prayer guides. Of course, along with the missions stories were daily scripture readings. Maybe someone suggested lighting a candle in there somewhere. It was close to Advent, but not quite there. It wouldn’t have been to hard to make the leap.

Evangelicals and their more conservative cousins have a tendency to go negative at Christmas. It’s understandable. The pagans took their holiday back and made it more pagan than ever, this time with our St. Nicholas, our wise men and our music. That probably deserves some “Bah! Humbugs” from the church, but if all we can come up with for the next 5 weeks is carping, we’re pretty pitiful.

Yes, the world has gotten into our treasure closet. But let’s not kick them out and yell at them to stay out of our decorations and music. Let’s ask them what they found. Let’s explain what it all means. Let’s connect the dots from Santa Claus to St. Nicholas to the Incarnation. Let’s invite them to sing along and, at the proper time, let’s pour some egg nog, tune up a “Gloria” and shine the light right in their eyes.

Our church had a “live” Nativity scene for several years. We had a big parking lot next to a busy street and that was a good place for such an event. Cars drove by, Eugene Ormandy played the big arrangements of the carols and we shivered in bathrobes. Hard to top it for a Christmas memory.

It was one of the few positive things we did that acknowledged the existence of the outside community. It was a way of saying, “You’re borrowing our incarnation and putting it right in the middle of this big nasty fallen world….which is what God did on Christmas. Did you know that?”

I remember the feeling of being exposed to the headlights of the world, standing there with the baby Jesus, outed as a Christian willing to shiver for 30 minutes in exchange for hot chocolate. (Well….Mary was pretty cute.)

Stay positive this Advent. Even the pagans like the calendars, the music and the candles. Let’s like it all so much that the joy of it overflows into the streets in the middle of the coldest nights. Put away the negativity and include yourself in all those regular folks that God loves enough to come up with this entire Christmas business.

Knowing what Christmas is all about doesn’t add ten points to your score. It just makes it all the more amazing.

(Reprinted from “Go to Bethlehem and See.“)

Comments

  1. I’m grumpy that we took Advent out of Christmas…

  2. huh?

  3. Basically, what I was referring to was how the “Christmas Season” has been anticipated so far as to almost completely overshadow Advent. The “Advent Season” has become the “Christmas Season” and the “Christmas Season,” which occurs between Christmas and Epiphany (if I recall correctly) is pretty much nonexistant.

    Rather than the Advent season of repentance and perperation, we have the “Christmas season” of celebration and feasting. Or, as a friend of mine pointed out, there’s something silly about demanding that shopping centers say “Merry Christmas” during Advent.

    Really, I guess I’m just a little annoyed because I’ve recently begun to incorporate the Church Year into my life more, and I’ve found it to be very helpful in making my faith more real, and I’m thinking, “Why wasn’t I told about this sooner?” This sort of thing is kept from thousands of Christians for no reason other than that it’s “not in the Bible” (and it’s associated with Roman Catholicism).

    And, all that besides, without Advent and Christmastide, “The 12 Days of Christmas” doesn’t really make any sense…

    Above, I was trying to say all of that in a more concise, and more humorous way (by revising the common lament of “taking Christ out of Christmas”).

  4. It seems to me that we Christians are great at applying out rules (life in the kingdom) to everyone else. Therefore, we rail against the darkness at key times of the year, more so at Christmas, because the world doesn’t behave like they should.

    I kind of thought we should expect to be different that the world. Why not be what we are… salt, light, and an attracting influence because of what we stand for, not just against?

    The early success of faith in America has led to complacency and the expectation that we’ll be accepted everywhere we set our foot. This was not the expectation of Christ and his early followers. They knew that persecution and defiance would come. They expected it and rejoiced over it. It validated their faith.

    I believe we must cleanse ourselves of the expectation that America will behave in a Christian way. I believe only Christ’s followers will behave in a Chris-like way. When that happens we might just be a light in darkness once again.

  5. davesumner says:

    Hey Michael,

    I’m sorry, this reply doesn’t have anything to do with the post. Please forgive me.

    I just wanted to say that I really like the new “look”, you’ve done a great job!

    Although, It will take some time for me to get used to not seeing the cool looking parish building. 🙁

    I would just like to make a comment though and please don’t take this as criticism. It’s just a suggestion.

    Now I realize that you put yourself in the line of fire with your bold subject matter and I know that it can be hard sometimes running your own blog, being in ministry and being the head of a family.

    Believe me, I know.

    But I would just like to suggest this….. I “feel” and “think” that the “first appearance” of your main page would be so much more encouraging if you would be smiling in your profile pic. 🙂

    Right now, it looks like your really mad. I know this sounds silly and it might be, but I enjoy your blog and I know you have a lot of traffic and I just thought that maybe people would like to see the “happy” and “loving” side of you.

    In His grace,

    Dave.

  6. It’s funny how we pick and choose what we’ll apply Christianity to. Take the Christmas tree, for example. Taken from the Druid new year festivities. Now ours, and even used to proclaim the message. But the advent. That must be bad.

  7. And please quit calling it persecution because store ABC says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Ask the Christians of North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam as well as various other places what persecution really is. Here is an idea, instead of boycotting store ABC, go there to shop. Even though the clerk or cashier or salesperson isn’t allowed to tell you “Merry Christmas,” you can say it to him or her. It may well make his/her day, and it can be a good witness also.

    It does strike me as somewhat amazing that many Evangelicals complain about the commercialization of Christmas and then want to boycott businesses that decommercialize Christmas.

  8. Two smart-aleck comments and one real one:

    we were fundamentalistic Southern Baptists

    Dude, you were just pretenders to fundamentalism. I grew up as an independent Baptist — those Southern Baptists were way too liberal. 😉

    Lottie Moon offering

    If you’ve ever heard, “Who is this Lottie Moon lady, and will she ever be paid off?”, you might be a Southern Baptist.

    And now for the serious one: Saw Bryan Duncan in concert many years ago (when he came out with his Christmas album). He reminded us that no amount of man’s efforts, even in those things that demean of the holiday can outweigh what God did (i.e. what it really means), and therefore we ought to enjoy it all.