Oh no. It’s here. How did the first of December get here so fast? It’s only 12 months ago when we were celebrating the First Sunday of Advent.
Christmas comes at the same time every year. Why are we always so surprised that it has come around again?
This time of year makes me so cranky. But you might be surprised about what makes me the most cranky. It’s not the Christmas music starting in, what, September now? It’s not the busy malls (malls make me cranky any day of the year). It’s not even the huge amount of preparation Jason and I put into Christmas. I actually enjoy that.
It’s the Christians. Yes. The Christians make me really cranky. I swear with how we are represented sometimes, I think it’s amazing anyone comes to Christmas services at all.
Last year at this time I was in line at our local grocery store. Like everyone else there, like the woman before me, I had waited about 10 minutes in line because of the time of year. I thought the woman in front of me must have been tired, or distracted, because she simply put her groceries on the conveyor, not even looking the cashier in the eye. When asked how she would pay, she kept her answers short and quick, and seemed a bit impatient with the other teenage girl who was bagging her items, like we all do when we are at the end of our commute and just want to get home.
As she put gathered up her things, the young cashier said a cheerful, “Happy Holidays!” The woman’s head snapped up and she, for the first time, looked the cashier in the eye. “Happy Holidays?! This isn’t a holiday! It’s Christmas! You say Merry Christmas!” And she tore her bag out of the young girl’s hand and stormed out of the store.
When the cashier turned to me, she was white as a sheet. Her hands were shaking. I think she was about to cry.
How’s that for a message of love at Christmas? How’s that for spreading the good news? Comfort and peace?
So, I looked her in the eye. “Listen,” I said, “I’m a Christian, too. I’m a minister actually. Thank you for wishing me a happy holiday, and I’m really sorry. She was very rude.”
I mean, come on. Did this woman really think a 15 year old girl, working shifts at a grocery store trying to earn some money to buy gifts for her family and friends, is really using her position as a grocery store clerk to declare a war on Christmas?!
I don’t know what made me angrier, that this woman was so hurtful to a kid, or that she was the face of Christ to that girl, and to anyone else who overheard, and if I hadn’t been there, that’s the Christ those kids would have met that day.
Do we really believe, with such passion, that God came into the world, born of a woman, to die on the cross, so that Christians would not need to suffer the indignity of being greeted with “Happy Holidays”? In fact, if we wanted to be really true to our traditions, we wouldn’t be saying, “Merry Christmas” either. At least, not until Christmas Day. Because this is not Christmas. Yet. It’s Advent.
Sometimes, I want to declare to the stores, the governments, the organizations that benefit from generosity this time of year, “Please. Take MY Christ OUT of your Christmas.”
- Store windows with merchandise equal to the cost of food to feed a family for a year.
- Benign messages of peace from governments that continue to increase military spending.
- People trampling over each other to buy cheap goods on Black Friday, the same day 100 people who made those goods in Bangladesh were killed in a fire. A fire they could not escape because the fire escapes were barricaded.
This world doesn’t need a little Christmas, right this very minute. I suggest this world, and Christians, need a little Advent, the practice of holy waiting. Actually, we need a LOT of Advent, but three weeks should do nicely.
If we, as Christians, really wanted to bring something sacred into the world in the month of December, we would take a serious look at practicing a holy Advent. Like Lent, Advent is a time of preparation, preparing our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child. Our hymns during these weeks are hymns of longing: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, O Come Divine Messiah, O Come O Come Emmanuel. In other words, He’s not here yet. We are still waiting. What we are longing for is not here yet. What ARE we longing for?
Each of these four Sundays we light a candle in the wreath, each candle representing something this world desperately needs. So many are living in despair and need a sign of Hope, something, or someone to put their hope in. Hope is the place in between. Randle Mixon describes hope as “…always situated between the world gone wrong, life off track, tasks undone, and expectations of the world righted, life moving steadily ahead on God’ s mainline, work well done. It is the human condition to live in the tension between failure and fulfillment, sin and salvation, trouble and hope.” For those in despair, the hope of waking up and seeing the light of another day is more than they could imagine. That’s who hope is for. (Feasting on the Word Year C Vol. 1)
We long for hope and we long for peace. Those who work for peace need to live in hope. Peace is not an easy path. There is never a single action or solution to war. We long for peace, and it is a long path.
We long for joy. Brighter lights, louder music, longer parades, these are not joy. They are fun and delightful, but they are not joy. Joy is living in the knowledge that the arc of history always moves towards justice. Joy is feeling the growing promise of the presence of Christ in our hearts, that we are never alone.
We long to love and be loved. We were created to live in relationship with God and with one another. We live in a world where most of our relationships begin in suspicion and mistrust. It is rare meet someone and become friends in the same evening these days. That’s why being a community that loves one another is so critical. We need to love one another and know that we are loved by one another.
Lighting these candles is more than a simple, homey tradition. It is a commitment, and a promise. Christmas marks the incarnation of God into the world, and that, as Christians, we bear the light of Christ. If we truly believe that, then, every Sunday we light one of these candles, we are making a promise to bear the light of hope, the light of peace, the light of joy and the light of love into a broken world.
The gospel readings these next few weeks are harsh reminders that we live in a world in need of a Saviour. It is a part of human nature for us to jump past the unpleasantness and move straight to the happy ending. But we all know the birth of a Saviour is far more than a holiday. It is a promise, and a commitment, to change the world. When we skip advent, it is too easy for us to forget that the world needs changing. When we jump to the brightness of Christmas morning, we forget that, on Christmas morning, wars still rage, people still starve.
This week, Jesus warns us to be watchful. Watching for signs forces us to be very aware of what is happening in God’s world to God’s children. There are many of us who are struggling right now, with despair, grief, poverty, conflict and fear. My friend Stephen Yeo says, “Advent invites me face, not turn away from, the darkness in our world and in my own life, and then bathes it all in hope.” Christmas cheer is not enough to penetrate the darkness of this world. Only the light of Christ can do that.
Is arguing over holiday greetings really what we want to be caught doing when Jesus is born? Or do we want to be caught in the dark places of this world, seeking and bearing the light of Christ?
Let us pray,
God of justice and peace,
from the heavens you rain down mercy and kindness,
that all on earth may stand in awe and wonder
before your marvelous deeds.
Raise our heads in expectation,
that we may yearn for the coming day of the Lord
and stand without blame before your Son, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.