by Christine Sine —
We are moving into the busiest time of the year, and in a world that seems to grow faster and busier by the day perhaps like me you feel that is not good news for any of us. It seems the shops are full of Christmas decorations and toys earlier than ever and everything about the upcoming season is already demanding more of our time and energy.
When Christmas is over, I wonder how many of us will look back on the season with a sense of betrayal. There is no greater contrast between the world’s focus and the Christian meaning of the season.
What should be an opportunity to strengthen our faith and model our Christian values to the world has become instead the greatest display of materialism and consumerism imaginable. Even non Christians buy Christmas cards and hold celebrations.
How can we counteract these insidious forces? Dare I mention it – we all need to develop rituals that help us connect our everyday lives to our faith – particularly at this season. Those of you that know me well will recognize this as one of my passions. Unfortunately, as evangelicals, we shy away from the very mention of the word ritual because it conjures up images of legalistic practices from the past or of New Age or pagan rituals that we know have nothing to do with our faith.
Sadly, when our faith does not provide these rituals the secular culture quickly jumps in with its quasi spiritual offerings. Massage therapy, aromatherapy, a day at the local health spa and our increasingly secularized and materialistic approach to Christmas all tantalize us with the promise of peace and relief from our stressed out lives. Tragically people of faith are just as likely to be sucked in by these rhythms and ignore the rich traditions from their faith that should provide the rituals for their lives.
There is a growing recognition of our need for practices that flow from our values and enable us to develop a rhythm that helps us cope with the escalating stresses of life. Psychologist and life coach, Martha Beck, admits,
I know that ritual is an incredibly powerful psychological process…Modern Western culture has had most of the ritual stripped from it, leaving us less grounded and more alienated than many so-called primitive peoples. By putting ritual back into your life, you can help ease stress and enhance enjoyment, benefiting everything from your immune system to your parenting skills, to your creativity.
She encourages us to make rituals simple and meaningful so that they won’t overwhelm us or add to our burdens. Simplicity also means we are more likely to stick to them.
My husband Tom and I are “Anglicans come lately”. We did not grow up in with a liturgical tradition, but in the last few years we have embraced the custom of the Advent wreath with great enthusiasm. Each morning during the Advent season we take a few minutes before breakfast to light the appropriate candles and read the scriptures for the day from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
It is a wonderful way to center our lives on the real celebration – the coming of Emmanuel – God with us, God in us, God for us. We also like to enter into the celebration aspects of the season, however – not trying to out party the party-goers but rather to focus our joy and celebration on the true meaning of the season. Each year we hold an annual Advent party that highlights our anticipation of the return of Christ and the coming of God’s Kingdom in all its fullness when all things will be made new.
Before the Advent and Christmas seasons gets started you may like to take some time to really prepare. Develop some short rituals for you and your family to use throughout the year that enable you to enter into the joy of Christ’s birth and the wonder of God coming into our world to dwell among us without the overwhelming pressures of consumerism.
 Martha Beck, “Creating Special moments that enhance and enrich your life” Real
Simple April 2000, p192
This post was originally published in 2006.