This year, I am giving full attention to Advent (the four weeks of expectation preceding Christmas) and am trying to observe it more faithfully. I am leading our church in this as well. The pull of the world with all its trappings is so strong that it has completely overwhelmed a Christian version of Christmas. In reality, there are two Christmases: the Christian version that involves worship of Christ, prayer, celebration, family gatherings, service, and gift giving, and the secular version that involves a lot of other stuff that clogs our hearts and can steal our joy. Not all in the secular version is bad by any means. I like "Jingle Bells" and Christmas movies and egg nog and all that. It is fun. But, it can quickly overwhelm us and push out the spiritual story that we should be telling this time of year.
I've come to the point that I believe that Christian festivals and observances are a good thing. I've pretty much adopted the basic Christian liturgical calendar as a way to order and redeem the time, believing that the gospel story affects everything. I don't practice it legalistically or believing that grace is conferred through observances. But, it is a good way to "fix our eyes on Jesus" and to preach the gospel to ourselves throughout the year.
Regarding Advent, Bobby Gross in his excellent book Living the Christian Year says,
“Advent is the season for waiting; we wait for the coming of God. We need Him to come. Our world is messed up and we are messed up. We lament our condition and long for God to set things right, to make us better. So we pray and watch for signs of His presence. We do all we know to do so that we are open and ready. In the midst of hardship and disappointment, we continue to wait. We wait in hope. We believe that something is happening in our world, something is taking shape in our lives, something large, light-filled and life-giving. Even in December’s lengthening darkness, this seed of joyful hope grows within us. We are pregnant with it. In our waiting, we are enlarged. God is coming!
“In Advent we focus on the three ‘comings’ of Christ: His arrival in history as a baby born of Mary, His return in fearsome glory at the end of time and His intermediate entrance into our own lives. During Advent we are engaged by the prophets of Israel – Isaiah, Zephaniah, Micah, Malachi – and their messianic visions. We are confronted by John the Baptist’s stern call to prepare for Jesus by repenting. We are beckoned to walk with Mary and Joseph in their anxiety and expectation. We are sobered by the teachings of Jesus and His apostles on the judgment to come at the end of the age.”
So, what if we celebrated the Christmas season by stilling our hearts and waiting upon the Lord in eager expectation and hope? What if we engaged in the classic spiritual disciplines of solitude, prayer, fasting, and giving? What if we sought the Lord and asked Him to Incarnate Himself afresh within us in redemptive ways? What if all Christians everywhere saw this season as a time of worship, adoration, service, and giving instead of a time of extravagance and consumption?
Rick McKinley from Imago Dei Church in Portland, Oregon has some interesting thoughts on this:
Rick and others are engaged in the Advent Conspiracy, which is an attempt by Christians to reclaim the story of Christmas. That is a conspiracy that I would like to be a part of.