Each year at this time Christians who follow a liturgical calendar experience the disconnect between the frenzied secularized Christmas of the retail world and the Church’s quiet, reflective season of Advent.
Lots of us church leaders—lay and ordained alike—will lament this. They will interpret the decorations at the mall and the sappy television programming and the all-Christmas-all-the-time radio stations as rushing to Christmas and forgetting Advent.
That’s certainly one perspective. Try looking at this temporal distortion in our culture another way. The coincidence of our Advent and the retail Christmas provides for us the occasion to prepare for the true Christmas.
Secularized retail Christmas celebrates consumerism. Words like joy and peace mean feeling gratified. You’ve gotten what you want. Giving devolves to feeding someone else’s desire for stuff. This has either nothing to do with a celebration of the Nativity our Lord or it is a vulgar debasement of our most cherished belief.
And what is that belief? God fleshed himself out in an ordinary person to bring peace and joy. Temporarily gratifying our desires—wants often generated by clever ads and our own yearning for comfort and status—should not be confused with the peace and joy inaugurated by the Nativity.
In the birth of Jesus, God inaugurates the Kingdom of Heaven on this frequently un-heavenly planet. Peace and joy emerge from God’s reconciling presence among us. We know ourselves as God’s beloved and feel solidarity with all of God’s children. God’s presence saturates our lives with meaning and weaves bonds of affection among the unlikeliest of people.
The dissonance between the clamor of secularized, consumerist Christmas and the quiet reflection of Advent is a spiritual gift. That clash urges us to prepare to keep the Christ in Christmas.
Keeping the Christ in Christmas has nothing to do with shallow arguments over proper holiday greetings and misspent time in our courts over mangers in public spaces. Instead, Advent quiet and study and prayer and service keep Christ in Christmas by stretching our hearts and minds again to receive Christ anew in our inner life, in our habitual practices, and in the face of the stranger.
During this Advent season, I look forward to joining you, wherever you are, in contemplation and reflection, in works of charity and self sacrifice. And as the Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity dawns, I will join you in wishing the world a holy and merry Christmas.
This Advent meditation will appear in the December edition of the Alive! diocesan print publication.