Christmas in America is full of so many great opportunities that we don’t otherwise have. During this season, we re-connect with family, enjoy lots of delicious food, and participate in the exchange of presents. Because these opportunities are so enjoyable, each year we face the challenge of making them the center of our celebration.
This challenge has not been helped by the increased sanitization of the season in our culture. Rather than talk about Jesus, our culture often talks about Santa. Instead of singing hymns that exalt the One who humbled himself and took on flesh, most Christmas songs focus on reindeer and elves. Our culture has even begun referring to this season as Xmas or “the holidays.”
One reason it can be so easy for us to get consumed by our cultural experience of Christmas is the unification it promotes among people with such different beliefs. We all might have different beliefs about virgin birth, but all of us love pumpkin pie and presents. So often what unites us (the enjoyment of self-gratification and consumption), can often distract us from talking about what divides us (the meaning of Christmas and the nature of Jesus). Instead of diligently working to preserve and promote our faith during this season, we often just turn up the Mariah Carey Christmas album and drown out these distinctions. It is just so much easier and more enjoyable to focus on what we want for Christmas, than what God might want for us during this season.
The unfortunate reality is that many self-identifying Christians start to lose the desire to remember and reflect on Jesus’ incarnation during Christmas. Over time, they start to make this season more about meeting their needs, than about remembering how Jesus met all of our needs by entering this world and dying in our place.
If it is true God actually gave Himself to us (not just metaphorically), he might actually want us to give way more than we receive this year. That would be terribly inconvenient.
The Christians that went before us had a different name for this time of the year than holidays, Xmas, or even Christmas time. They called this season, beginning four Sundays before Christmas, “Advent.” Advent means “coming” or “arrival”, the words signifying that God has come in the person of Jesus over 2,000 years ago. This highly charged word is a death blow to our practices of self-focus and self-gratification in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
If advent really happened and Jesus really came, then what took place about 2,000 years ago demands our utmost attention. If Jesus really came to give Himself as a ransom for many, then perhaps putting our $5 dollar bill in the Salvation Army jar isn’t quite that impressive.
If advent really happened, then faithful Jews waited generations for a messiah. If advent was real, there was a freaked out teenage virgin girl with a fiancé just as petrified. If advent is real, it was a messy time full of desolation and hope. The first advent was a time where those called by God to be instrumental in the salvation of the world experienced hardship, longing, and difficulty.
If advent is real, there is another advent coming. If advent is real no amount of stuff will compare to what is ours in Christ and will compare to what we will see when Jesus comes again. So we have options; we can try to buy ourselves joy, or we can find joy in the King that came and is coming again.
But just like a meal, if you feed yourself junk food, you will ruin your appetite for the feast that awaits you. In the same way we can ruin our appetite for Jesus’ return by trying to fill ourselves with something but love for Him. We can fall in love with tablets (the newest of course!), clothes, home décor, vacations, partying with the right people, and find that we have no taste for a King and God that would cry, need, and bleed just like us. We stifle our desire for Jesus when we desire something else to enliven us. So what do we do?
One suggestion I have is instead of filling yourself with eggnog, Christmas cookies, and shopping mall weekends is to, for this season, remove those things which ruin your appetite for Jesus. Remove them; don’t feed them; reject them. For me, as a person who loves sweets at this time of the year, I am rejecting sugar up until Christmas, then going to have a Chocolate Cake on Jesus’ (supposed) birthday, December 25th. Also, I like to read a lot about sports, and for the time of advent I will be staying away from sports websites.
Am I doing this to get God to love me more? Absolutely not! I am doing this so I don’t ruin my appetite for a feast by eating stale potato chips. I am doing this because I so easily get excited about fool’s gold when the diamond of heaven offers Himself to me. I am doing this because I need it.
I am surrounded by noise, and my eardrums are throbbing. This year I want to listen to a symphony. So I am going to look forward to Jesus coming back, as I consider what it would have been like to have been there waiting on him 2,000 years ago. I want to hear God sing His love over me in Jesus. This is the best Christmas music anyways, no offense to Mariah.