Each Advent I spend a lot of time telling people that we are not actually in the “Christmas season”. I remind my congregation in my sermons that Advent used to be a quiet, rather penitential time, where generations past of Christians spent time in reflection and spiritual preparation. Our festive Christmas seasons, far from being traditional, would be downright baffling to our ancestors in the faith.
Sometimes this time of year I feel a little bit like I might be coming across like the Grinch, snatching joy from all the Whos down in Whoville.
But here’s my Advent confession: the reality is that as much as I believe in observing a holy Advent, I really like all the trappings of Christmas a lot too. Here in my small New England town lights are up everywhere, and it’s beautiful. A little over a year ago Hurricane Irene hit this area hard. We were flooded, and we rebuilt. But last Christmas, some folks in town decided the area needed a little extra joy, and so they convinced homes and businesses throughout our entire valley to join in by putting up lights.
We decided to join in at the church. We wrapped lights around our sign, and around the trees in front of the building, and we lit our candles in the window. I wondered at first if we would get any negative feedback from those who felt the church shouldn’t be joining in on a seemingly secular display. But then I stop worrying, and decided to just enjoy it.
Now I look at the lights on the church and I see not only a beautiful display, but a sign of hope. Last year in the midst of a difficult year, the lights were a visible reminder that joy comes in even the darkest times. The same is true in Advent. In the time of the year when the days are shortest, and the weather grows cold, we have little hints that something wonderful is about to come. The signs that are all around us this time of year, like an Advent candle or a certain hymn, point to Christmas and to Christ’s birth.
The same can be true of all the Christmas lights, and carols, and even the Santas at the mall. They might not be Advent-related, strictly speaking, but for those of us who are looking forward to Christmas, they can be signs of a joy that is still to come. So long as we don’t confuse our worship of Christ with our worship of them, they can point us to the goodness of the season, and to something even more beautiful and festive.
Of course, you can wander through Advent embracing your inner Grinch if you really want to; but a holy Advent doesn’t have to be a joyless one. If anything, we can start to prepare ourselves, and the world, for an even greater joy.