Friday, December 19, 2014

I Hate Christmas

Okay, I really do not hate Christmas.  I hate what commercialization and cultural expectation has done to the season that begins in late November after both the turkey and the Detroit Lions have been devoured, and then ends a month later when everyone goes home after exchanging gifts, food, and fun.  Stores begin stocking seasonal items immediately following Halloween.  From Black Friday (which now begins Thursday evening) through December 24, we are inundated and overloaded with donation requests, party invitations, and church activities.  December has become the month to do everything for everyone to promote good will amongst others.  Throw in the endless advertising jingles, shopping traffic, and corporate year-end needs for your employer, and we have the makings of a complete meltdown.  We build up this gigantic pre-Christmas time to a huge climax with the idea that the new year can start fresh.

There is a temptation to retrograde into nostalgia of how simple and enjoyable childhood memories are.  That is a foolhardy endeavor, or to cite someone who knew better:
Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.  (Eccl 7:10)
My childhood Christmases were simple and enjoyable.  I shall treasure them.  (Except maybe for the one time I had a chance to stand in line to see Santa but wouldn’t.  I was terrified of him.)  I remember waiting anxiously in eager anticipation as the days following Thanksgiving went by so slowly, longing for the day.  And therein lies the problem—not the anticipation, mind you, but its object.  What are we waiting for?  Or what should we be waiting for?

Lectionaries have always been designed to follow the life of Jesus through the entire year.  The earliest of these began the Church Year on Christmas with the birth of the Lord Jesus and followed different stages of His life.  At the end of the calendar the focus changes, because we change from Jesus’ life to His coming—His Advent.  You remember Advent, don’t you?  Maybe not.  This time begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas* and ends on Christmas Eve.  This time originally looked forward to Jesus’ promised return when He will judge the living and the dead.  It was a time to remember that we are to be living in light of the final day.  If we had gotten off track, this was a chance to consider once again that the King of kings was coming as He promised.  We once freshly examine the question, “Am I living in the light of His return?”  A tension arose between the Lord coming again and the first coming remembered at Christmas.  By holding that tension in place, we remember the humiliation our Lord took on by coming into this world as a baby, but He will come again arrayed in glory and splendor to rule and reign.  We remember that what was true in history will certainly come to pass as promised.  And while the Church Year was changed to begin with Advent, the focus has not changed: our Lord comes.

Somehow, I do not believe that there is much reflection of Jesus’ return in the checkout lines at the big-box store with the gifts purchased for Christmas morning.  Unbelievers will not; believers may not either.  I realize there is no way to reverse the trend, but we Christians should understand that our Lord returns, as the hymn puts it:
O blessèd hope!  O blissful promise!
Filling our hearts with rapture divine;
O day of days!  Hail Thy appearing!
Thy transcendent glory forever shall shine.

He is coming again, He is coming again,
The very same Jesus, rejected of men;
He is coming again, He is coming again,
With power and great glory, He is coming again!†

*  Technically, Advent begins on the Sunday before St. Andrew’s day, which in the U.S.A. is the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day.
†  Accessed at


Vanessa said...

I do think you can observe Advent while still preparing for and enjoying some of the festivities leading up to Christmas. Does it have to be an all or nothing, Advent-purist mindset?

Not saying this is what you're promoting, but just a thought to ponder. While we can be frustrated with the secularization of the holiday and the push to make it "all about giving" (when we Christians should understand it is also about receiving...), I don't think anyone is less of a Christian because they enjoy eggnog, Christmas carols, and gift-buying in the middle of Advent. :)

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

In our house we always kept Christ at the center, and Santa was a fun fairy tale in the vein of Snow White or Cinderella. And the only gifts from "Santa" were fun, silly things and everyone knew where they really came from. We were usually finished with shopping by mid-November so as to avoid the nonsense. And, most things for the kids were made at home anyway.

Steve Bricker said...

Vanessa, I acknowledge my tendency to think in black-and-white, and it comes out that way as I write. Rather than trying to be a purist, I was more railing against the undue stress pressed on us trying to accommodate all the expectations. As Charlie Brown famously said in A Charlie Brown Christmas, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

P.S. I do love carols, and we have eggnog in the fridge right now (Snoopy "happy dance").

David Cochrane said...

I need to see your Snoopy dance.

I refuse to let the sinfulness of the world steal the joy of this time of year. And also the sweet sorrow remembering those who are away from us who made it so we did know what it was all about.

God's peace. †

Steve Bricker said...

Glenn, you had a good plan.

David, no you don't--not really. ;-) But to your point, you are correct. It's just hard work and can be quite wearing.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

We thought it was good, but Jill's grandfather was furious when he found out, saying we were robbing our children of fun childhood memories. Some people just don't have a clue.