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“Oh, Yes, We Need A Little Advent, Right This Very Minute…”
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6a00d8345304b969e2012876371d35970c 800wiWhen I was a kid I used to love all those animated Christmas specials that came on every year–you know, those Rankin-Bass stop action ones like Rudolph and other classics like Frosty the Snowman and, of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas. I remember my mom circling them all in the TV Guide and making us hot chocolate to sip while we sat by the glow of the tree lights and marveled at these sure signs that Christmas was just around the corner.


If you were paying attention, though, you’d notice that there was a thematic thread that ran through just about every one of these shows–the idea that Christmas was somehow about to be prevented from coming. “Christmas” was defined, of course, by the arrival of Santa at a given home to provide the precisely perfect present for happy girls and boys. The plot of your average Christmas special was based around the idea that some defective reindeer or misguided elf or evil villain was keeping Santa from making his rounds. No Santa, no Christmas.


Nowadays, after 25 years of ordained ministry and as many Christmases, I sometimes find myself wishing that Christmas wouldn’t come for once–-or at least the thing that Christmas has become. For example, I find myself no longer seeing the Grinch as a villain but as a kindred spirit. After all, the dude just wanted to have some peace and quiet on Mount Crumpet away from all the hooting in Whoville.


I remember my first Christmas Eve as a freshly minted pastor. Having delivered what I thought was a homiletical masterpiece to a packed house I stood at the door to wish folks a happy Christmas on their way out when one of the church members stormed up to me not looking jolly at all. I stuck out my hand. “Merry Christmas!” I said.


“Forget it,” he said with a scowl. “You ruined my Christmas!”


I thought through the service and all the possible theological and/or cultural gaffes I could have made. I didn’t even trash the idea of Santa, which I am wont to do. “How did I ruin your Christmas?” I asked.


“We didn’t sing the First Noel as the second hymn,” he said. “Without that, it’s just not Christmas.” With that, he stormed out into the night.


What do you know? I had actually kept Christmas from coming! I had become the Grinch! For many people, all their expectations, hopes, fears and grudges are bound up in whether Christmas comes in the right way for them-–a way that only they can define. I, and my clergy peers, are often cast in the role of Grinch for these folks because we kept their Christmas from coming, even when we didn’t do it on purpose.


I have come to feel a lot of compassion for these folks because I know that they are hurting in some way. There’s something about the holiday that just brings up a whole lot of pain and loss for some folks in the midst of all that joy to the world and peace on earth stuff. Some people get madder at God during this time, too, so it’s no wonder they’d lash out at their pastor, who represents God by association. It comes with the territory and I expect it. I empathize because I know that my own losses are also magnified at Christmas. Every time I watch our kids open their presents, for example, I feel a mixture of joy for them but also deep sadness that their grandmother, my mom, never got to see them or watch them experience Christmas morning. Every Christmas since I was 14, the year that she died, I feel her loss.


But I think there’s a way to at least help folks journey through this time. What works for me? Focusing on Advent–the getting ready part of Christmas. Advent gives us a time to slow down, time to disengage from all the hoopla. Advent is supposed to be four Sundays where we’re not yet singing Christmas carols but waiting upon the Lord. Advent is the slow march to Christmas, a time for us to prepare our inward selves to receive the Christ child and to gird ourselves for the time to come. I think if we had a little more Advent, Christmas would be a lot less a time of fear and loathing.


Advent begins this Sunday, December 1, and this year we’ll be looking deeply into the real reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. It goes beyond the manger and into the very nature of Christ, which is revealed in the Scriptures and, historically and theologically, in the great Creeds. The Nicene Creed is especially rich in its proclamation about Jesus as one is both “true God from true God” and “truly human.” I hope you’ll join us for this Advent series on Christ in the Creed.


After all, there’s nothing like some good theology to keep Christmas coming right on schedule!

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