Dear Friends in Christ,
We all know that the Season of Advent is not an easy one for Christians to observe.
I’ve moaned about it often enough I know!. But we all often join in. We all complain that Christmas trees are up and decorations in the shops far too early. But we all fall foul of it. it is not just Advent that gets lost though. The Church has a whole Christmastide Season that so easily completely disappears.
Just as Christmas trees are often out on the pavement a day after Boxing Day, so the Church’s Christmas-tide season is so often shunted out of the way. Things will be even more difficult this year. We lose a whole week of Advent as it were, as Advent Sunday 4 is also Christmas Eve. Then, straight after Christmas we are almost in Lent, almost the earliest it can be, beginning on 14th February.
In short there is much competition for attention between Advent and Christmas Season (Advent 1 to Epiphany, January 6) and the wider culture's "Christmastime" (November through to New Year). I.e. ‘Its Chrismastime!
One writer, Taylor Burton Evans, puts it like this:
The result of this competition? "Christmastime" generally wins. Advent and its focus on the second coming of Christ and the fulfilment of all things begun in his first coming is lost.
That's a major loss. Advent is the one time of the church year specifically dedicated to this focus. While we rehearse and remember the second coming, new creation, and the fulfilment of all things every time we pray the Great Thanksgiving and celebrate Holy Communion, Advent was developed from the beginning to be the season where we focus our worship and teaching around this explicitly. The church year starts with Advent precisely so we can "begin with the end in mind."
But "Christmastime" causes us to lose more than just Advent. In effect, we often lose Christmas Season, too. These twelve days (December 25-January 6) were designed as a time of celebration and intensive contemplation of all that the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ began to set loose in the world."
“Christmastime” does not do this. Instead, beginning as soon as possible after Halloween it creates and unleashes peer pressure to buy all kinds of gifts, provides multiple opportunities for “feel-good” parties and end-of-year giving to various charities, and culminates on December 24 or 25 with the babe in the manger and the comforting illusion that all is now well with the world.
“Christmastime” then continues not with any meditation on the implications of the incarnation, but with a sort of national “time out” to return unwanted gifts, see family, and handle all end-of-year business before January 1 ends it all for another year.
The contrast could not be starker. The mission of Christmastime is to silence the cries of the baby Jesus, because his cries would break the illusion that all is well if we have played our role as "seasonal consumers" aright. But the readings of Christmas Season do not let us do that. We hear poignantly of the martyrdom of Stephen on December 26 and the wailing of Rachel renewed in the "slaughter of the innocents" on December 28. The stories of terrified, then joyous shepherds in Luke, of wandering Iraqi astrologers in Matthew, and of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us in John provide at best a "strange comfort."
Christmastime lulls. Christmas Season alarms and awakens.
Christmastime offers a nostalgia- and consumerism-driven offer an escape from this world. It is a cultural opiate for the masses. The real Christmas Season drives us directly into this world's deepest sufferings with both its deepest pain and its highest hopes.
The powers of this world love Christmastime because it gets them off the hook! Christmas Season reveals the lengths to which the powers of this world will go to avoid, obstruct, or halt the coming of God's kingdom.
For the church to keep Advent and Christmas Season need not call us to stand back from or in harsh judgment on what the surrounding culture has created (with our cooperation!) in Christmastime. Feelings of peace and comfort, the joy of giving and receiving, warmth in the midst of winter-- these are all fine things. We can still enjoy them with family, friends, and siblings in Christ.
But actually keeping these seasons in worship and in the life of the congregation calls and equips us for something far more, and far richer, than what “Christmastime” offers. A full celebration of Advent, four to seven weeks, followed by a full celebration of Christmas Season enables us to see what the wider culture often keeps invisible, to feel with a depth Christmastime may anesthetize, and to love with the fierce determination of “God with us, every one.”
Will you try?
Try to keep a full Advent, enjoy Christmas and journey through Christmas-tide? I hope and pray so.
For only then can we truly see what the Age of Jesus truly and fully means for us all.
With love and prayers,