Baby Jesus isn’t just a cuddly cute bundle of life.
Advent is a wonderful season because it’s all about waiting for a baby. Who doesn’t love babies? Religion is sweet when it concerns a tiny bundle of life we can hold in our arms and upon whom the very hope of the world depends. More people would sign up for church membership if it were all as lovely and cuddly and charming as this.
But be forewarned: The baby is a thief.
This year, take the focus off presents and put it on serving God’s family.
If your kids are anything like mine, Advent has less to do with preparing for the arrival of baby Jesus and more to do with the studied preparation of Christmas lists. In an effort to combat an increasingly present-hungry holiday focus, a few years ago we started a Jesse Tree. Every morning, we added a new ornament to our Jesse Tree and read that day’s Bible story, which took us from creation to the birth of Christ.
From the archives: Take time this year to observe Advent among the worry, hurry, and frantic activity of the holidays.
In the middle of June, on a bright, hot, green, snow-is-the-furthest-thing-from-my-mind day, my middle daughter looked across the breakfast table and asked, “Mommy, when is it going to be Advent?”
She was quite serious; Easter and Pentecost seemed a long time away. Surely it was about time Advent rolled around again. Or at least so she hoped. She was, to say the least, disappointed when I explained she had an entire summer and fall to wait before Advent peered over the horizon.
The answer may be more complicated than you thought.
The easy answer to that question is, we, the church, did. The feasts and seasons of the liturgical year all developed from the church’s desire to remember, celebrate, and live the great mysteries of our faith.
The answer gets more complicated when we realize that these seasons originated centuries ago and developed independently in different places, spreading, combining, and sometimes dying out.
Before we can talk about Advent, we have to talk about Christmas, obviously, and, less obviously, Epiphany.
When admittance to the nativity scene is free and open to the public, Bethlehem can get a little crowded—but the creche is enriched because of it.
I don’t have pictures of myself sitting terrified on Santa’s lap. Despite his slow but certain infiltration into the traditional Spanish Christmas, he has never been able to dethrone the Wise Men who, flanked by pages, still sit in department stores and city squares to listen to children whose wishes they will fulfill the day after their parades on January 6.
As pieces of Teresa’s nativity set traverse afar, her niece catches unexpected glimpses of the incarnation.
My aunt Teresa was a collector and creator of religious artwork. Like many women of her generation, religion defined life down to her taste in decorating. Jesus and Mary were very much part of family life; their pictures were displayed on bookshelves with other aunts and cousins. Everywhere she traveled a new statue of Mary would follow back home to her collection.
“Listen! I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Rev. 3:20)
Try this for Advent: Next time you are forced to cool your heels, see the wait as a spiritual invitation.
Advent is the liturgical season of vigilance or, to put it more mundanely, of waiting. During the four weeks prior to Christmas, we light the candles of our Advent wreaths and put ourselves in the spiritual space of the Israelite people who, through many long centuries, waited for the coming of the Messiah.
God’s messengers are often just as surprising as the words they bear.
Advent always opens me up. Just when I think I am in control of my life and ministry, I am confronted by the challenges of a new liturgical year. The prophets get under my skin. The gospels splash my soul to surprise and awaken me.
Christmas should be an attitude toward life, not an endurance exercise. This Advent season, why not shop the scriptures rather than the malls to prepare?
Thanksgiving, and in some places Halloween, is barely over these days before stores begin to play Christmas songs as background sound for the orgy of buying and wrapping and overspending. The pumpkins and scarecrows and cornucopia of October and November get put hastily aside to make way for cheap tinsel and cute music and flashing lights.