I’ve got a lot more to say than I probably will here, but I want to get this out there because it’s bugging me.
The last several years of our ministry, Stefanie and I have observed the season of Advent more closely. Advent, it turns out, is the season before and leading up to Christmas. It’s a season of waiting. Of longing for the coming of Christ. Of imagining what life might have been like for God’s people during the long, dark night of the decades before the birth of Jesus. To wait. To “mourn in lowly exile here” while singing with all our hearts, “O come, O come Emmanuel!!” At the same time we remember this period of time in the story of God’s people, we also remember we, too, are in a time of waiting. We await the second coming of Christ, where His Kingdom comes to earth as it is in Heaven. Where all things are made new. Where the dragon dies and the Lamb establishes the Kingdom in its fullness.
Observing Advent has certain implications for our worship practices. It means we wait to sing “Joy to the World,” and other Christmas carols until after December 25. It means we search. We seek. We mourn. We practice what it means to live in Hope in the midst of suffering. To anticipate the “not yet” in light of the “already.” To delay our satisfaction Now, if that doesn’t sound to Christmas-y, you’re right. It’s not. It’s Advent-y.
Several friends and colleagues in ministry (particularly in our tribe, the Church of the Nazarene) are discovering Advent at the same time. It’s becoming trendy. It’s becoming the cool thing to use the Advent wreath, observe some aspects of Advent, hang a blue or purple banner or two, and feel good about ourselves because we’re observing the Christian calendar.
But here’s the catch:
In the Christian calendar, the 4 weeks of Advent culminate in… Christmas. And for most Christians in the history of the Church, Christmastime is twelve days long… not one.
Last year I spent Christmas day in China as part of my bi-vocational job. I was away from my family on December 25, and I didn’t like it at all. Being on the other side of the world in Christmas was hard, and not something I’d like to do again. One thing last Christmas taught us, however, was to celebrate the full season of Christmas. We decided since I would be in China on Dec. 25, we would celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas and make the best of it.
This year we’re continuing the tradition, and we’re learning an important lesson:
If you’re going to celebrate Advent for what it is, make sure you celebrate the full season of Christmas. If we take 4 weeks to wait for and anticipate the coming of Christ, why celebrate Christmas for only one day? It’s like the way we in the West do weddings: we prepare for months, and then BAM! In the span of a couple hours, it’s over.
Christmas tends to work the same way: Weeks of planning and anticipation… and the actual event blows past us in a flurry of shredded paper, well-cooked ham, and a family gathering or two. In the church, Christmas is sometimes observed on the Sunday after the 25th (when it’s not prematurely observed during Advent), but hardly ever is it stretched over the two Sundays encompassed by the 12 Days. I’ve had other leaders in the church look at me weird when I wished them “Merry Christmas” this week.
I realize it’s counter-cultural. I realize it’s December 29th and the “After Christmas” sales are over. I realize our neighbors have turned off their Christmas lights and neighborhoods are doing Christmas tree pickups. I realize Wal-Mart has Valentine’s day stuff out. I realize singing Christmas Hymns during our New Years celebrations will feel weird, and wishing God’s people “Merry Christmas” on Sunday, January 4 might garner a confused look or two.
But, what if…? What if….
…God’s people (the Church) modeled a different (though not really new) way of marking the time for the world to see?
…we celebrated the full festival of the 12 Days of Christmas, even though the rest of our culture is thinking Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day?
…after the long wait of Advent, we celebrated with all the full-blown joy that only Christmas can bring… for 12 days?
…the old-school Christian calendar really does make sense?
… we all, tomorrow (December 30th) wished our friends, family, and neighbors a full-hearted Merry Christmas?
Blessings and Merry Christmas,