It is almost that time of year again. I say almost because although the advertisements and store displays would tell us we are smack dab in the middle of the season, Christmas has yet to arrive. I have difficulty relating to the Christmas season like most adults in our hyper-commercialized culture. It’s hard not to be cynical when we see Christmas decorations being put up around Halloween.
As I’ve gotten older, I have lost the sense of wonder I once had as a child at Christmas. I’ve tried to make up for it with a modern mixture of materialism and sentimentality with a splash of spirituality, but the season turns out flat. For me, Christmas can be shallow and empty, wrapped in paper and stuck under the tree. It’s sad to admit, but we have made Christmas into a parody of itself. The meaning of Christmas has been lost, but let’s be honest—we have been on this trajectory for years.
On December 9, 1965, the animated television special A Charlie Brown Christmas aired. Even then, Peanuts’ creator Charles Schultz was concerned that Christmas was overshadowed by marketing, blinking lights, and silver plastic tinsel. In the middle of a school Christmas program Charlie Brown cries out in frustration from center stage, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus eases Charlie Brown’s anxiety as he stands and recounts the Nativity story from Luke’s Gospel.
With the same certainty as Linus, author Greg Pennoyer reminds us in the preface to the devotional God with Us that Christmas is “the feast of the Incarnation, which is the mystery of God with us in the flesh. When we cut through the sentiment and marketing to the spiritual riches of Christmas, we recover a sense of who God is and who we are as humans. But recovery cannot happen in a day.”
Embracing the wonder of Christmas requires that we remove ourselves from the flashy rivals for our attention during this time. Advent is the respite from the excesses of the season that our souls need. I find that it is essential for me as I prepare my heart for the approaching Christmas.
The word Advent means coming or arrival, which seems odd when we don’t actually expect anyone to arrive. We usually mark the season by looking back two thousand years to remember the birth of Christ. This is undoubtedly Christmas, but just a part of it.
The word ‘Advent’ also indicates another arrival that has yet to happen—the second coming of Jesus. To celebrate the true meaning of Christmas is to prepare ourselves for both arrivals: Christ, the king of kings, who was born in a manger, and the same Christ, who is yet to come and will return to make all things new.
Since there was a snafu with the Advent devotional we were to read this year (no one is to blame except the shipping company), I went back to an old Advent well. In Advent for Everyone, N. T. Wright writes, “The ‘second Advent’ overlaps with the first. We celebrate Jesus’ first coming and use that sense of fulfillment to fuel our hope for his second coming and to strengthen us to work for signs of that kingdom in our own day. We live between the first Advent and the second. That is one way of saying what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”
Let me encourage those who desire a change during this Christmas season. By redirecting your focus during Advent to Christ’s coming through reading, prayer, and reflection, there you can rekindle the wonder of this season. Let this be a return to childlike hope and joy as you anticipate Christ’s arrival.