According to virtually any media reports, we are now in “the Christmas season.” Everywhere we encounter images of bustling malls and online specials, as well as endless commercials advertising special prices or new items to purchase seem to be what drive this “season.” Since holiday shopping actually accounts for a substantial part of the business for many retailers, there is no point in lamenting the fact that “Christmas” has become very much of a commercial reality, but this frenzy comes at a cost.
It saddens me to hear others say things like, “I’ll be glad when Christmas is over.” What they are really saying is that the pressures to purchase things, the costs involved, the hassles of trying to meet unrealistic expectations created by advertising are all turning what should be a joyous day with family and loved ones into a self-defeating experience.
As Christians, we do have the opportunity to assert ourselves as a counterculture: choose to observe Advent. More than three weeks of December are designated as the season of Advent, a time of quieting the soul and refreshment for our spiritual life. When it comes to sacred time, “less” (doing less, worrying less, accepting less pressure) can actually be more.
In organizing the year in this way, the Church actually heightens the impact of Christmas. Officially the Feast of the Incarnation is an awe-filled celebration of Christ’s birth and His becoming one with us in our flesh. At the heart of the Christian faith is the recognition of God’s love in sending Jesus to live among us as a human being. We believe in a loving God Who cared enough to be fully one with us, sharing even our pain and death through Jesus’ human experience. His birth as a mere child born to poor parents sets the tone for the life of Jesus, who in the flesh lived as we do, both in our sorrows and our joys. Understood this way, Christmas is really a moment of rich spiritual acknowledgement what God has done for us in sending us the Christ.
But before we get there, we need some time to draw back from all the pressures of our daily life which consume our time and energy. We need to be able to stand back and make space for reflection and to make ourselves present to the Spirit of God. Taking this time out from our busyness can energize us and renew our sense of purpose and meaning. This holy season of Advent is our opportunity to prepare our spiritual selves to be present to God. Observing Advent involves a conscious attempt to tune out so much of the interference we experience when we become too busy and too exhausted. Like using the old-fashioned radios, we work to get past the static in order to tune into the channel where we can pick up God’s signal clearly.
May Advent be your time of quiet, and may your celebration of God’s Christmas be joyful!