Thanksgiving is over–at least here in Canada. We now have two things to look forward to: the first snowfall and Christmas. I may be one of the few people I know who really looks forward to the first with joyful anticipation but I don’t care. I like snow and winter and my car already has its winter tires on and the snowbrush and shovel in the back so let it come–my skis and snowshoes have been idle too long.
For most of us, though, it is time to begin thinking about Christmas, as in “what do I get for so and so” and “how do I hint successfully for what I want”. For me as a pastor, there is also the added issue of “what do I say on Sundays that won’t bore people too much” and “how do I cope with the rush of Christmas events that seem to begin earlier and earlier each year”.
I have been a pastor for a lot of years–I probably preached my first Advent/Christmas sermons in 1974 (yes, they did have Christmas then, although Advent came in later). The issue I always face is trying to take a fresh and interesting approach to the season–not so much for the congregations who will hear the messages but for me as I prepare them. If what I say is old and tired and been done several times before, it is really hard for the congregation to get excited and engaged.
And I see the need for creating engagement more and more these days. Christmas has become such an integral part of our culture that even we in the Christian faith can forget what it is all about. Christmas has become an economic driver for our commercial economy; an emotional release at the beginning of a long winter; a political litmus test for inclusiveness and multiculturalism; an excuse to ask for and give stuff nobody really needs but everyone wants. It also justifies the extra eating and drinking that put fitness clubs and exercise sales in the black in January.
Quite a few years ago, I stepped off the “Put Christ back in Christmas” bandwagon. The sooner we in the faith realize that we have lost the cultural Christmas, the better it is for us. The season has taken on a life of its own, almost completely cut off from the remembrance of the Incarnation. We in the church could pull totally out of the Christmas process and our absence wouldn’t be missed, except for the few who do like a good Christmas carol sing but any mall will provide some of that these days.
So, I actually run on two levels. I live in the West–so I do the cultural celebration. I brave the malls–once at least, although online shopping is working out quite well for me these days. I make a list of suggestions for my family to get for me. I don’t do the whole cultural bash because truthfully, since our kids grew up and the grandchildren live far away, it isn’t as much fun–there is something about new kids toys that really makes the cultural Christmas work for me.
But I also remember that the cultural bash has its roots in my faith and so look for ways within the process to remind myself of that. The church decided very early that we should remember the Incarnation at this time of the year. That decision was based on the reality that there already was a major cultural festival going on and the church wanted to give the faithful something to help them avoid some of the excesses of that cultural bash.
And now that the wheel has turned and we are back at the same point, we as believers need to be doing the same thing–looking at the cultural bash and picking and choosing what we can do that fits with the reality of our faith, while at the same time, looking for ways to remind ourselves that Christmas is about God coming into our lives in a very real and very significant way.
I know this is early to be talking about Christmas. But it we wait until it hits us, we are too busy and stressed to pay attention to anything but surviving. Now is a good time to plan and design our Christmas so that we can have a balanced cultural Christmas and a significant celebration of the Incarnation.
May the peace of God be with you.