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The season of Advent began last Sunday. It is a season that the Church has dedicated to preparing for the celebration of Christmas. The difference between Advent and Christmas is a small but important one. It’s no surprise that right after Thanksgiving we want to ask, “When can we sing Christmas songs?” But the question we must ask is: Are you ready to receive the one and only that God is sending our way?

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Advent is a time to reflect and prepare for Christmas similarly to how Lent is in preparation for Easter. It is uncertain as to when exactly the celebration of Advent was introduced in the Christian church. It is believed that at some time in the fifth century it began as a six-week fast leading to Christmas. In the sixth century it was reduced to its current length of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas Day and the fasting was no longer observed.

Rev. Mark S. Roberts, a Presbyterian minister, reflected on Advent in the following manner: “In our secular American celebration of Christmas, the Christmas season (or holiday season, ugh) begins in the weeks prior to Christmas Day. Generally, this season starts in early December, though retailers have a bad habit of beginning Christmas in November (or even October)… So Advent overlaps with what is usually thought of in American culture as the Christmas season. But its beginning and ending are well defined, and its themes are quite a bit different from what is commonly associated with secular Christmas celebrations.”

Rev. Roberts goes on to say there are two primary reasons why Advent is important to him. He found “that observing Advent enriched my celebration of Christmas. Taking four weeks to focus on the hope of Christ’s coming made me much more joyful when I finally got to celebrate it. The more I got in touch with my need for a Savior, the more I rejoiced at the Savior’s birth.”

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In addition he found “in Advent a solution to the age-old problem of secular Christmas vs. spiritual Christmas… We (Christians) recognize that Christmas is, most of all, a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s a holiday that focuses on the meaning of the Incarnation. Yet, given the secular traditions of Christmas, we spend most of our time preparing, not for a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but for fulfilling the demands of the season.” Buying and wrapping presents, attending and hosting parties, traveling to visit relatives, sending out Christmas cards, and if you have younger children “spending hours trying to assemble gifts that come with sketchy instructions written by someone for whom English is, at best, a third language.”

The website, http://www.adventconspiracy.org, asks, “Can Christmas still change the world? The Christmas story is a story of love, hope, redemption and  relationship. So what happened? How did it turn into stuff, stress, and debt?” Then it suggests four ways to change the way we celebrate Christmas.

ADVENT 1

Worship Fully

It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

ADVENT 2Spend Less

Quick question for you: What was the one gift you remember getting for Christmas last year? Next question: What about the fourth gift? Do you remember that one? Truth is many of us don’t because it wasn’t something we necessarily wanted or needed. Spending Less isn’t a call to stop giving gifts; it’s a call to stop spending money on gifts we won’t remember in less than a year. America spends around $600 billion dollars during the Christmas season, and much of that it joyless and goes right onto a credit card. By spending wisely on gifts we free ourselves from the anxiety associated with debt so we can take in the season with a full heart.ADVENT 3

Give More

I know what you’re thinking. “Wait, didn’t you just say I should spend less, and yet here you are telling me to give more? What gives?” The most powerful, memorable gift you can give to someone else is yourself. And nobody modeled this more than Jesus. So what does this look like for you? Tickets to a ball game or the theater? A movie night? The main point is simple: When it comes to spending time with those you love, it’s all about quality, not quantity.

ADVENT 4

Love All

It all boils down to love. Love from a savior. Love to a neighbor in need. By spending just a little less on gifts we free up our resources to love as Jesus loves by giving to those who really need help. … It’s not that there’s something wrong with the shopping mall—it’s that the better story is about loving all.

It is not enough to say no to the way Christmas is celebrated by many. We need to say yes to a different way of celebrating.

Jamie Jenkins

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