Tom and I are heading out to Anacortes this morning for our annual Advent retreat time when we reflect and refocus our lives. I hope to get another post up later in the day but that may not be possible.
This morning’s post comes from James Prescott from Epsom, south west of central London. James is part of Vineyard Church, a church plant in Sutton trying to explore what doing church means in a post-modern context. He is passionate about the future of church and exploring what church is, writing, teaching, films, music (of all different kinds), my i-mac, PS3, superheroes and reading.
Advent: Finding the Christ in Christmas
At church today our pastor talked about the season of advent, leading up to Christmas, and asked what we were most looking forward to or expecting this advent season. I couldn’t really think.
All that came to mind was presents, seeing family, parties and the busyness. I knew Christmas was about Jesus, but it was almost like that was a given. Then our pastor said he was thinking about Emmanuel, God with us. And I paused. I realized my first instinct when I thought about Christmas wasn’t of God, wasn’t of the coming of Jesus or the meaning of His coming. It wasn’t about God. Or Jesus
I had let myself get so sucked into secular idea of Christmas – presents, decorations, wrapping, parties, family, cheesy songs that you hear every year – and worrying about what I’m doing on what day that the real heart of Christmas, the reason we celebrate, had completely slipped my mind. I knew Christmas wasn’t about secular things, but about Jesus, but I was so in the routine of doing the same things every advent/Christmas season – even in a church context, that the importance, significance and meaning of it was drummed out of me by life – almost without me knowing it, or even desiring it.
This year I’ve been a bit grumpy when it comes to decorations, parties and cheesy music (there’s only so many times you can hear ‘Simply having a wonderful Christmas time’ before wanting to break the radio), because I’ve felt like the real meaning has been lost to people – when people start making cards deliberately without nativity or Christmas (in the proper sense) themes because they don’t want to offend non-Christians at Christmas (now there’s a paradox and irony if ever I saw one) and people rarely if ever mention Jesus when talking about Christmas it’s easy to get disillusioned with the whole thing.
I sometimes wish that we dumped the tinsel, the tree and the presents. I sometimes wish that instead we just focussed on reflecting on and celebrating (I mean really celebrating, not just singing songs, but eating and drinking and partying, with a measure of self-control anyway) the arrival of Jesus, and the love and grace of God in giving us Jesus.
I want to say to people who get offended by Christmas cards with Christian messages or pictures – though of course I shouldn’t and I don’t – not to bother with Christmas, or at least don’t call it Christmas if you do give gifts and cards – because its clearly not anything to do with what they believe in.
I want to tell people, that its a Christian festival (though the date may come from pagan festivals), and the point is that its about Jesus – that’s why its called ‘Christmas’. There is a reason ‘Christ’ is in the name of the season. I mean Christians don’t try to stop other people celebrating their religious festivals or interfere with them, so why should they infringe on ours?
I’d gotten so sick of people distracting from what Christmas is really about – Christ – and manipulating it to suit themselves and disrespecting its meaning, that in my heart I just gave up. Christmas has become so about all the other things that I’d almost forgotten or given up on its true meaning. I’d lost the ‘Christ’ in Christmas.
Now I’m not going to have a go at those of other religions or who don’t follow Christ about Christmas as I talked about. That’s not the way of Jesus. But what I can and want to do is at least reclaim the real meaning in my own life, in my own heart. I don’t have to make a big deal out of it or be judgmental or sit on my high horse about it, or get religious and legalistic. I’m not asking anyone to agree with me or believe what I believe.
However, I will act and see Christmas differently, and when asked, explain to people that to me Christmas is a sacred and special time. Its not just an excuse to eat and celebrate and give gifts, its a time to remember a celebrate one of the biggest moments in the history of all time, which has great meaning for me. There is significance in the ‘Christ’ in the word Christmas.
Because of the secularization of Christmas, advent has in some ways become more important than Christmas Day to me now. Because although we have advent calenders, it is largely untouched by consumerism. People haven’t taken the idea of advent and put other things under the title ‘advent’ like they have with Christmas. Of course there is a secular kind of advent in the build up to Christmas, with parties, buying presents and advertising on TV about Christmas, but advent itself hasn’t been taken over.
Over time advent has come to create a time and space to think about the real meaning and significance of Christmas, to prepare my heart to hear and respond again to the message of Christmas and its significance.
Its come to be a time when I’ve really discovered again the reason for the Christ in Christmas. So when Christmas Day comes round again I will be celebrating something real, something big and important, not just celebrating for the sake of it.
It will engage with my heart much more because of this season of advent and because of how I’ve been reflecting on what the coming of Jesus really means, both for me and for all of us. I hope that you can too.
And if you’re not a believer, in the build up to Christmas I would encourage you to think about where this story comes from, why we celebrate. To question whether there’s something bigger going on, something more to Christmas than just presents, dinner and parties.
To ask yourself why we have the ‘Christ’ in Christmas. Indeed, that’s something all of us can do.