It All Starts This Weekend



As I write on the day after Thanksgiving, I’m aware there are three types of people in my audience today. Those who have been out and about Black Friday shopping, attempting to scoop up a great deal on some item they have been wishing they could replace, upgrade, treat themselves with or perhaps even use as the perfect gift for a loved one. And then there are those who have likely slept in, enjoyed a quiet day at home knowing that the left overs in the fridge will prevent them from having to do much in the way of cooking or baking, and are thinking about putting up Christmas decorations later this afternoon if they are feeling really ambitious. And finally, there are those for whom today is nothing all that special. They still went to work today because their job doesn’t stop for a long holiday weekend.


No matter the crowd you are in, Christmas is about to hit you full force for the next month. Christmas programs at school and church for the kids. Holiday parties where you get to spend a few hours making small talk with your (or your significant others) co-workers. Getting the house ready to host relatives you haven’t seen for a long while, or getting ready to travel to their homes. Christmas lights many yards of your neighborhood and Christmas music on nearly every radio station you listen to while driving in your car. Not to mention the gifts to buy for family and friends and, for those who are super traditional out there, getting your Christmas cards stamped, addressed, and set off in the mail.


It's all a bit overwhelming at times, isn’t it?

It’s a bit of a unique thing here in America to cram it all into a single month. Our American Thanksgiving is what most of use to mark the start of the holiday season. Canada has Thanksgiving in October so as soon as Halloween has come and gone, they are off and running with Christmas. Most of the world doesn’t have a fall Thanksgiving in large part because they don’t have the story of pilgrims and Indians we have based our American holiday off of for many years nor do they widely celebrate Halloween as a fun, festive holiday for kids to dress up and collect candy and so they aren’t bothered with turning on the Christmas music as early as September.


Having lived overseas for a year, I was a bit taken aback when the Christmas markets were in full swing in mid-November and Christmas music played in stores even earlier. My American sensibilities were appalled they weren’t waiting until Thanksgiving to officially kick off the Christmas shopping season. And then I realized that the world would not be shutting down for a four day weekend at the of November because I was not in a country where Thanksgiving was a national holiday. But then the first Sunday of Advent came around.


I had already put up Christmas decorations and finalized my holiday travel plans. I had been listening to my favorite Christmas music including many of the classic Christmas carols. I had already dropped the few Christmas greetings I was sending via overseas mail into the mailbox. And as I sat in church that Sunday morning, watching the lighting of the first candle in the Advent wreath, I was ready to settle in a really prepare my heart for Christmas.

This Sunday kicks off the season of Advent in our liturgical year. It is a season set aside hundreds of years ago, before Black Friday shopping and school programs, before office parties and Christmas trees with piles of presents beautifully wrapped beneath them, before sugar cookie decorating and gingerbread house building, before all of the many things of our modern holidays became our traditions which mark this time of the year. It was set aside so that we may embrace the quiet and stillness of the early evenings to prepare our hearts to receive, once again, God incarnate, Immanuel into our world.


Advent is rich with symbols to remind of us of the power of the Christmas story. The four Sundays we celebrate this season remind us of the 400 years God had been silent before the birth of Jesus. The green of the wreath reminds of life and growth. The candles each week invite us to ponder the themes of hope, love, joy, and peace. The tradition of the Jesse tree reminds of family tree of Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, from whose lineage the Messiah had long been prophesied and promised. Nativity scenes remind us of the humble beginnings of the King of Kings. The songs we sing invite us to ponder and embrace the awe and wonder of what it means for the Son of God to take on flesh and be born as a helpless human infant.


As we rush and scurry about trying to make the holidays perfect for our loved ones this year, especially for those who had to cancel plans to celebrate with them in person last year, I want to encourage you to take a moment and embrace Advent. It isn’t a ticking clock counting down the days you have left to make the most of things before Christmas morning, but an invitation to remember the reason we have Christmas to celebrate in the first place. Take a moment to put everything into perspective. It don’t have to be a big thing, just a meaningful thing.


Perhaps you haven’t given Advent a second thought before now. That’s OK. Take 1 hour of 1 day in the next month to really read through Scriptures which tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Or pick up Max Lucado’s “Cosmic Christmas,” a short story which tells the Christmas story from the perspective of the Angels. Perhaps dive into a devotional which focuses on the themes of Advent and the birth of Christ. Maybe the thought of including the kids is overwhelming so this year it is something you do individually or as a couple instead of as a family. Or maybe this year is the year to sit down with your kids and ask them how they would like to make this season more meaningful as a family.

And if you need a bit more time, embrace the reality of the church’s Christmas season which doesn’t start until Christmas day! That gives you 12 more days STARTING on Christmas to exchange presents and gather together with family and friends. It gives you 12 more days to enjoy your favorite Christmas movies, music, and decorations before packing them away for next year. And even then, maybe don’t pack away everything. I leave a small manger scene out year round to always remind myself of the miracle of Christmas. This past year I enjoyed a hand made one I picked up with I was in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. It may stay up another year, or another one may win out in 2022. Either way, when it catches my eye it will make me smile as I remember the amazing gift God gave in sending His Son to earth all those years ago.


Follow Up

- Check out our Pinterest page for ideas and resources to celebrate Advent.

- Many churches are looking for volunteers to make various holiday traditions possible. Pick one way which you could get involved and volunteer for a couple of hours this year.

- Tell us your favorite Advent traditions! Invite someone who is far away from home and family this holiday season to join you in your traditions.

- Give yourself permission to say no this year. If your December calendar has become so jammed packed you barely have time to think between now and Christmas, say no to a few things. Step back and evaluate, keep the traditions which make the season meaningful and bring joy, politely step away from the rest.

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