When I was a young boy, I remember that the month leading up to Christmas was just as emotionally charged as Christmas day itself. It was so much fun to decorate the house, bake cookies (or at least eat my mom’s cookies…) go gift shopping, watch Christmas movies, search the house for those unwrapped gifts, and finally, Christmas Eve service and a reading of the Christmas story. All of this built up the anticipation for Christmas day. When we went to bed on Christmas Eve my brother and I were so amped up we could hardly sleep. But as the years passed, the buildup was less exciting. Mainly because I loathe fighting people for a parking spot at the mall. But looking at myself now, I can see that I allowed myself to get consumed by the culture regarding Christmas. The buildup and anticipation became more about the consumeristic idea of Christmas. Sure Christmas Day I absolutely celebrate the birth of Christ, but if I am being honest, that is just a part of me, the other part of me has been caught up in the purchase of gifts, decorations, and doing all the things the culture tells us we are supposed to do to celebrate Christmas.
So here we are again, with Thanksgiving now behind us, our attention turns to Christmas – and I would like to take this opportunity to remind us to slow down and minute and not allow the consumeristic culture to absorb us and distract us with the newest tech gadget. If you notice, stores now take us from the money spending machine of Halloween directly to Christmas because those are the two events which drive many businesses. However, in the jump from one event to the next, we miss out on that time of buildup and anticipation which is Advent. Advent is more than a holiday – it is a rich season of prayer and anticipation and one which is important for every Christian to experience. But it may be more than what you think.
From the 4th through 6th century Advent was not connected with Christmas at all: it was a time of anticipation for the second coming of Christ. For the early church, the Advent season of expectant waiting and preparation was just as important as the celebration on Christmas. It was not until the Middle Ages that Advent became connected to Christmas and as time has gone on, it has become more and more about anticipation for Christmas. What can be lost is that it is a dual season: a season for anticipation for Christ’s second coming and the consummation of the eternal kingdom AND in remembrance of His first coming. Advent is about the expectancy of the Messiah – who came and is to come.
So besides opening a calendar with chocolates every day this month, how can we celebrate Advent? Though unconventional, now is a great time to read the Book of Revelation and get a sense of the coming kingdom. Beyond that, I also think it is a great time to connect with the emotions of Israel at the end of the Old Testament from Daniel on. Israel looked back on God’s hand in the Exodus from Egypt and in anticipation of the Messiah’s coming to rescue them from exile again. The song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” illustrates this point:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
However you celebrate Advent this year, don’t forget that we need the Messiah in our lives. Our sinfulness and need for grace make the coming Messiah an even greater gift. Such a gift is one which we can joyfully anticipate and reflect upon without getting caught up in the rush of lights, presents, and food. Take the time to soak in His Presence and promises.
Trying to follow,