I am counter the retail preparations for Christmas happening earlier and earlier each year. The buzz of collection and stuff on offer becomes almost a cacophony of noise to such an extent that I can hardly extract myself from the grotesqueness of the Christmas clutter at Canadian Tire, Costco et al. The record for early preparations seems to be July; I may be wrong. I’m open to examples of even greater crassness, but spilling ink on all the usual suspects on the retail industry at Christmas is as old as Dickens himself and should be no great surprise or cause any great angst.
I’ve always prepared well for Christmas. From a childhood where resources were slim and the temptation to covet was great, I have enjoyed a leisurely, well-thought-out, long-term prep for the season. This allows me to relax and enjoy the many things that are on offer… Handel’s Messiah every second year, an organ concert, a Mennonite Choir, my own church’s supper, and the Christmas Pageant at Kitsilano Christian Community. My son’s previous involvement at a local shelter drew me back to the street in a more personal way than I had been for some time. Contributions to many groups and partners like Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM), the Mustard Seed, and others, are part of celebrating and marking well my response to the gift of the Christ child.
My point is, that unlike the Cromwellian Puritans, Christmas is to be engaged in moderation not ignored. I would remind us of three brief things.
First, the bumper sticker “Keep Christ in Christmas” is something I wrote about several years ago. It annoyed me then and it annoys me now but for reasons some of my fellow Christians do not understand. If we “Keep Christ in Christmas” we could well be saying that we keep him there. In other words, we limit him there. We don’t allow the wondrous gift of His birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection to become part of our daily and weekly story and not just one for Advent. Let’s “keep Christ every day of the year” (paraphrasing Scrooge from A Christmas Carol). By the way, this Chai-tempest-in-a-teapot over Starbucks and their Christmas affiliations is rather silly (sidebar – I have come to prefer Tim’s coffee in this job)… considering that their best coffee blend is their “Christmas blend.” Yes, you got it, Christmas, the full word. If some of us are challenged to keep Christ in the rest of the year, at least a secular for-profit business like Starbucks is able to keep Christmas in their coffee.
Secondly, I would remind us that the Christian year is demonstrably and emphatically not the secular year for the simple reason that it begins earlier, on the first Sunday of Advent. This year that was Sunday November 29th. The themes of each week are faith, hope, love, and peace. Any opportunity we get to individuate, separate, and be apart from the secular world around us, even in the simplicity of a date that begins our new year, should be something we seize upon.
Lastly, Christmas is the time when people from every tradition, perspective, and age are open to the person and gospel of Christ. There is no easier or better time to welcome people in the winsome name of Jesus. There is no greater opportunity to celebrate the gift of God in Christ than to speak of a homeless couple, and a child born in poverty, who as a family quickly became refugees. Indeed, no better time to name those “dots”, so to speak, and to connect them. We who are far away have been brought near. We who are near must call those who are from afar to come closer, or to meet Christ for the first time, or to take this new year and new Christmas to come back to Jesus from whom we may have strayed.
It is essential that if you have a church supper there is room for those who do not believe. It is essential that you have Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services so that people who feel comfortable for some reason at this time of the year, even in ways that make no sense, come this Christmas because we have made it possible for them to come. I would ask us, and I will practice myself, a simple prayer in this Advent season. It is for those that I know and those who I do not know but encounter – a simple prayer for myself and others:
Lord, make yourself known to me. In the coming of this season when people are most open, might there be a joyous and animated expectation on our part that this is a great opportunity for others to come to experience the Christ.
Welcome to Advent. Happy New Year!