Skip the Carping, Negative Advent

I never heard about Advent growing up. Our church recognized Christmas, but anything else would have been too “catholic,” and we were fundamentalistic Southern Baptists. What I heard about Christmas was dependable preaching from the texts surrounding the birth of Jesus, the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for foreign missions, and a lot negativity.

Negativity? Yes, there was plenty of negativity in the season of Joy. We heard a lot about how Christ had been “X-ed” out of Christmas. We heard of the evils of Christmas celebrations involving alcohol. We heard warnings about leaving Christ out of Christmas. We heard that most people had no idea what Christmas was about anymore. (Apparently things used to be better.) Eventually, we heard that if you stayed home from church for any kind of Christmas or New Year’s celebration, your salvation was probably questionable.

This eventually extended to Super Bowl Sunday night, but that’s another story.

The season of Advent- with all its traditions and customs- would have been a good idea in our church. We were intense about the meaning of Christmas, but not very interested in the kind of spiritual formation that would allow us to “keep” Christmas with out families and our children. It would have given us something to do besides complain.

Part of the Lottie Moon offering was a prayer guide for foreign missionaries. It’s still a deep part of my own spirituality too think about missions when I think about Christmas, and I owe that to those Lottie Moon prayer guides. Of course, along with the missions stories were daily scripture readings. Maybe someone suggested lighting a candle in there somewhere. It was close to Advent, but not quite there. It wouldn’t have been to hard to make the leap.

Evangelicals and their more conservative cousins have a tendency to go negative at Christmas. It’s understandable. The pagans took their holiday back and made it more pagan than ever, this time with our St. Nicholas, our wise men and our music. That probably deserves some “Bah! Humbugs” from the church, but if all we can come up with for the next 5 weeks is carping, we’re pretty pitiful.

Yes, the world has gotten into our treasure closet. But let’s not kick them out and yell at them to stay out of our decorations and music. Let’s ask them what they found. Let’s explain what it all means. Let’s connect the dots from Santa Claus to St. Nicholas to the Incarnation. Let’s invite them to sing along and, at the proper time, let’s pour some egg nog, tune up a “Gloria” and shine the light right in their eyes.

Our church had a “live” Nativity scene for several years. We had a big parking lot next to a busy street and that was a good place for such an event. Cars drove by, Eugene Ormandy played the big arrangements of the carols and we shivered in bathrobes. Hard to top it for a Christmas memory.

It was one of the few postive things we did that acknowledged the existence of the outside community. It was a way of saying, “You’re borrowing our incarnation and putting it right in the middle of this big nasty fallen world….which is what God did on Christmas. Did you know that?”
I remember the feeling of being exposed to the headlights of the world, standing there with the baby Jesus, outed as a Christian willing to shiver for 30 minutes in exchange for hot chocolate. (Well….Mary was pretty cute.)

Stay positive this Advent. Even the pagans like the calendars, the music and the candles. Let’s like it all so much that the joy in the middle of it overflows into the streets in the middle of the coldest nights. Put away the negativity and include yourself in all those regular folks that God loves enough to come up with this entire Christmas business.

Knowing what Christmas is all about doesn’t add ten points to your score. It just makes it all the more amazing.

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~ by Michael on December 4, 2006.

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