Christmas will soon be here. It seems far off, yet it is so close. In the United States, it seems like Christmas hits stores earlier and earlier. My particular favorite bulk-buying store has had Christmas decorations up since early October. Most retailers “wait” until after Halloween to change displays from Halloween displays to Christmas.
At least in the United States, the “Christmas kickoff” really happens at Thanksgiving. When that last Thursday in November rolls around we are free to play Christmas music and carols on the radio. It is time to setup the Christmas tree and let the season of good will begin. The people within the churches on Sunday morning clamor to sing Christmas carols. Then on December 26, the trees begin to come down, the decorations are put away, and we enter into the winter season.
From a Christian perspective – and from one who has spent years in professional Christian circles – it is clear that when we celebrate Christmas this way we are missing something from our lives; we are missing something from our spiritual journey.
So we step back, and we slow down together.
The Christian year is divided into two great cycles: the Christmas cycle and the Easter Cycle. Each of these two cycles has three parts each: a time of preparation, a time of jubilation, and a time of reflection. In between these two great cycles is the ordinary time of our lives, the time where we grow, and live, and have our being. The Easter cycle is comprised of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. The Christmas cycle is comprised of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.
In Western Christianity, Advent begins four weeks before Christmas. Christmas begins at sunset on December 24. In much of the Western world, Christmas has become a national holiday, supplanting the religious celebration in favor of a more generic, secular celebration. We are equally willing to sing along with White Christmas and Winter Wonder Land as we are with Silent Night and O Come, All Ye Faithful. We begin the celebration of this “secular Christmas” with one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. Let me stress—none of this is bad. But what we miss when we skip Advent and move directly from Halloween to Christmas is a time to truly reflect and prepare for the Christmas festival. Unprepared, we often miss the grandeur, joy, wonder, and delight of that holy night.
This Advent, we invite you to join with us as we focus upon the season of preparation even as we live within the world.
In the weeks ahead, we will be talking about how we can slow down in our lives, how we can simplify our celebrations, and how we can watch and wait for the coming Lord. Join the conversation here on this blog, on our Facebook page, and on twitter.