Tuesday, November 27, 2012

This is Not My Favorite Time of the Year

            If I may be painfully confessional and overly personal, there is a little truth that I would like to admit publicly. This is not my favorite time of the year.

            Generally, the aftermath of the Thanksgiving holiday leaves me exhausted and wondering if I should start my diet now considering all the turkey and sides that I consumed over the previous weekend.

           This time of the year I also prayer contending with the delicate tension between the strictly secular observances that mark the month of December and the vital Christian celebration of Christ’s birth. As much as I love the trimmings and trappings—not to mention the giving—associated with Christmas, I find much of the commercialism of the season hard to balance against the humble beginnings of Bethlehem some two thousand years ago.

           Part of my struggle comes from the fact that as the church prepares for Christmas and what is one of the most sacred observances of the year, the harried pace of Christmas shopping, card-sending, social gatherings, office parties, and a powerful need to hold onto long-standing traditions crowds out the message of the Manger. By the time Christmas Eve arrives, so many of us are exhausted from the rush, tired of hearing Christmas music, and worried about making January’s bills.
Although well-intended and passionately expressed, Christians who argue for the right to say “merry Christmas” instead of “happy holidays” or defend the necessity of having manger displays on the courthouse lawn do not help my discouragement this time of the year. As I see it, such passionate cries only cheapen the faith to mere slogans and plastic figurines. After all, Christ was not born to be a public display or a holiday.
Christmas is, in fact, very much a very secular and non-religious holiday. In spite of a whole host of religious threads woven throughout history, much of the traditional observance is a rich blend of sacred and secular, pagan and Christian, Bible and custom. In addition, Christmas traditions are observed by people who have little or no allegiance to Jesus Christ simply because it has become a powerful—and unifying—cultural norm.

            I am not against Christmas. Santa Claus is as much a part of my family as in most. Soon the tree will be up in my home and I have already started my shopping, sending cards, and wishing people the very best of holiday cheer. I cherish the traditions and get no greater pleasure than blessing people with special gifts. Christmas truly is a unique and powerful time of the year. Part of me really loves Christmas.

        Yet, in this weird time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find my heart longing for something more. Within many Christian traditions, the answer is Advent—a time of preparation and anticipation. Most importantly, it is a time of prayer and blessing.

          As we enter this season, let us all be as intentional about prayer, preparation for the Biblical Christmas as we are about the traditional celebrations of the season. 

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