If you are unfamiliar with the term Advent, it comes from the Latin word meaning “coming.” For Christians, it is a season of preparation, marking the birth of Jesus Christ and our expectation of his second coming. There is so much that goes into these holiday celebrations, but in my opinion—despite all the planning and getting together as a church with our families and friends—we have all but forgotten the true meaning of the season. “Is it all for the joyous celebration of Christ or the celebration of gifts, food, and sweets?” In certain places, such as Canada, where I live, wishing people a Merry Christmas is no longer acceptable. Instead, people say Happy Holidays to avoid offending anyone or any religion, even though doing so offends Christians. But all of these nations that live here seem to celebrate Christmas without even knowing the true meaning behind the holiday or the name it represents. It feels like the coming of Christ has just turned into a mass-populated celebration of greed and mass consumption, something totally different from what the Advent season means for me or my fellow Christians, or does it? 

It is our duty as Christ’s disciples to proclaim the good news of the gospel and to commemorate the birth of our Saviour and everything that led up to his conception, death, resurrection, and second coming. Pastors carefully go over the tried-and-true liturgies in our churches, whether they are Catholic, CRCNA, or United Methodist, in order to introduce fresh sermon themes or revitalize the days preceding the coming messiah. Our children learn more about baby Jesus and the day Mary and Joseph ended up in a stable full of bright light from the star that would lead the magi to bring gifts to the child who lay in the manger. Whether it be through a musical performance or the preparation of our congregations for celebration and worship,. These visual cues can be found in abundance in our churches, for instance, in the lit trees and flowers. All through, one can hear verse recitations of Silent Night and the Little Drummer Boy, with Christmas music blaring from cars and homes. There are lots of things to do throughout the day, like shopping, wrapping presents, getting toys or gift cards for the less fortunate, baking or buying the traditional gingerbread or oliebollen donuts, and creating Christmas cakes or puddings. In addition to ourselves, our families, and others, all these beautiful gifts we give are nice to receive, but are they really based on our love, praise, and joy for Jesus, or have we lost some of these traditions by trying to outdo ourselves each year? We know that even if all we brought to Jesus’ birthday celebration was our open hearts, without anything else, we would still be welcomed exactly as we are—that is, without any of the preparations we labour so hard to complete throughout the month of December. All these wonderful gifts we give—not only to ourselves, our families, and others—are nice to receive, but are they really based on our love, praise, and joy for Jesus, or have we lost some of these traditions by trying to outdo ourselves year after year?

There is nothing wrong with any of these traditions; they are all wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoy each one. Nevertheless, as the days pass and the festivities draw to a close, we remove the trees, store the outdoor lights, celebrate the new year, and get back to our pre-Advent schedule. Where is our concern for those who are less fortunate than us, or where is all the joy, love, and giving spirit? Our wallets become more constricted when our bills start to arrive and the credit debt may mount up. Despite this, the homeless still face hunger and the elements. While we sit in our homes with our new possessions and our Christmas generosity fades like the dust spots where our holiday decorations once sat, there are still children who go without breakfast before school or the appropriate clothes for the seasons.

A fellow student and friend of mine asked me, “What is the deal with Boxing Day here for us Canadians?” My response was that it was a lot like my American friend’s Black Friday. Which got me thinking about how ridiculous it is that we celebrate families and their opening gifts of new toys, clothes, dishes, and jewellery for a whole day, then the very next day we rush out to shop at all the stores and malls that are now open. When I was younger, the only establishments open on Christmas Day would be the occasional gas station or a restaurant near the highway. These days, I get my favourite coffee from Starbucks every Christmas morning. When did this happen? And it reminds me of my American friends, and how the Christmas music on my favourite K-Love radio station started playing nonstop the day after Thanksgiving, almost like a countdown leading up to Black Friday shopping. We are now taught by the large corporations to go out and spend, taking for granted the time we get to spend with others over the amount of money or things we get from them or give them, even though we both just celebrated holidays with our friends and family. I no longer hear any of this as preparation for Christ’s second coming.

I am a mother of four children who adore the preparation and festivities of Advent and Christmas, so please do not think that I am a scrooge or bah humbug. However, as a student pursuing a career in pastoral ministry, I cannot help but think about how we can harness some of this spirit and custom to extend them throughout the year during the month of December. Why does the countdown to Jesus’ second coming need to end when Advent ends? How can I or we walk into our churches in the new year and not return to our normal routines or prepare for Easter? Are we merely living out the same calendar year after year in the hopes of a different conclusion and a wise return that will bring about change and improve everything and make it whole, loving, and compassionate? Given that, as Christians, should not we also try to find a way to prolong the illumination of Christ’s birth and return? Perhaps you should call or visit Aunt Martha before packing away your decorations and running back to exchange the sweater you do not like. Consider going through your cabinets full of potential holiday foods and setting aside a small bag for the food bank before you start cutting back. Or perhaps, as we keep the Advent spirit alive, we can simply remember to be kind to one another. Simply being nicer, warmer, happier, and kinder to one another does not require a celebration. Rather, I believe that continuing this until the next Advent season would be the best present we could ever give Jesus. 

By Amanda Mason

17 Comments

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