I love the Christmas season – I always have. I’m sure it’s combination of things: food, music, gifts, decorations, snow, everyone being slightly more pleasant than normal. I am guilty of singing Christmas songs year round, and it’s a bit of a relief when I can start singing them in public without weird looks from everybody else. There’s nothing quite like the look you get from a stranger in the grocery store when you’re caught singing “O Come Emmanuel” in July. 😉
But in recent years I’ve started to dread the actual day of Christmas, as if I have to brace myself for all the things we have to prepare and what MIGHT GO WRONG if we’re not ready for everything.
I’m sure all of you who celebrate Christmas can relate. There is so much junk that gets in the way of understanding the relevance of the Christmas story. Now is the time of year when we scramble to finish things before deadlines at work and school before we can take a few days off. Ads convincing us to shop for the latest and greatest plastic things infiltrate even the most intimate of spaces – personal relationships and social settings become opportunities for us to be judged on our hospitality and generosity based on what we’ve bought. This is especially maddening when the normal life things like illness, unemployment, challenging relationships, and the loss of loved ones get overshadowed by the “Christmas cheer” via plastic, electronics, and overexertion of our bodies’ energy stores.
WHAT THE HECK.
Moving to London has helped me START sorting out cultural expectations for Christmas from the genuine theological implications of the Advent season.
Before I moved here, I was excited to experience Christmas in London (so many of my favorite Christmas pop culture images come from stories set in Victorian England…and the Muppets…and Doctor Who.) But now the ways businesses use these images to hook people into buying “stuff” is less romantic than when I first came. The shops’ Christmas season began at the end of September since Halloween isn’t popular here, and Thanksgiving doesn’t exist (but this is essentially same period of time for the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas shopping time frame in the US.) The cultural expectation to celebrate by buying is overwhelming.
To honor Jesus’ story in Advent, I would like lift up three individuals’ messages on this first Sunday of Advent. Some local wisdom to counter the advertisements’ messages:
- Mary and Joseph were literally the first people in history to accept Jesus into their lives. We can learn valuable lessons from them – living with the stigma of Mary’s extra-marital pregnancy, fleeing as political refugees when King Herod killed countless baby boys to find this other king he’d heard rumors of, and their REPEATED calls to obey God in raising this little person who would grow up to save the world. Following Christ is a lifestyle that will cost us the respect of other worldly forces, but it is SO FULL of love and joy. – Andy Barnett in his message “Learning from a couple called Joseph and Mary” this morning at All Saints Church in Peckham
- We may feel like we have to “brace ourselves” for Advent, but the reality is that Jesus comes to us today as he did on that night long ago. He comes humbly, simply, quietly in the night when no one is paying attention. The opposite of us keeping life under control, Advent is about letting God surprise us with love, without fear of being imperfect. Jesus is the definition of God loving us in our mess. – Jenny Dawkins, the curate at All Saints Church in Peckham
- As Christians, we are called to enter into the story that God writes with people’s lives. There is always light and dark present on this Earth. From a British perspective with Celtic roots, Advent is a time to practice trust and hope in God even as nights grow longer and days grow colder. It is a time to pay attention to creation as it settles into the dormancy of winter. Even in a bustling city like London, it is a time to listen to the deeper resonances of creation’s power, and God’s power within creation – to the intimate songs and whispers that can transform our hearts as we journey together. – Janet Morley; poet, editor, Christian aid worker who spoke on her Advent poetry anthology, haphazard by starlight, today in St. Paul’s Cathedral
Advent is a time to wait and prepare. But it’s also a reminder of the kind of waiting and preparing for God we should be doing year-round anyway. How can I prepare the way for God today? In this conversation? With this meal? How can I be more gracious with myself? With others? How can I be more aware of creation? How can we prepare the way for God in community? How can we still let God surprise us? How can I do all of this when my life is insane, I have laundry to do, dinner to cook, and a family gathering to get to before they start lunch without us???
Blessings on all our journeys as we navigate the world in Advent…and all the other times of the year. 😉