The long lines of Black Friday have finally gone down but the blitz of the hyper-commercialized holiday season is just revving up. This period of time from Thanksgiving to Christmas has become the “busy” season. There are trees to decorate, parties to attend, relatives to visit, gifts to buy, and cards to send. The frantic pace is exhausting and if we are not careful, Christmas will have come and gone with nary a “Silent Night.”
Is there any way to slow down the clock and adjust the volume so that we can really experience the peace, love, and joy of the season? For those who long to reclaim the holidays as holy days, Advent can be a meaningful and refreshing approach to Christmas. As a devotional season of preparation and reflection, Advent can help us to organize our thoughts and priorities in ways that highlight the mystical wonder of the Christ child’s birth.
During my early years as a pastor my journey toward Christmas changed drastically when I was introduced to the colors and candles of Advent. Mission-driven Christians who live in a market-driven culture need the reflective disciplines of Advent to help us recognize and avoid stealth forces like materialism, busyness, and greed, a trio of fickle Grinches who aim to steal the real gifts of the season and replace them with superficial slogans and glamorous counterfeits.
Advent beckons us to take the road less traveled en route to Christmas. When our days are seasoned with prayer and saturated with messianic hope, we will inevitably focus on the story of Christmas more than the stuff of Christmas. Advent delivers us from the busy quest and the relentless anxiety of meeting materialistic expectations as it calls us to a deeper faith, a rich spiritual communion that exceeds the buzz of shallow commercialism.
In our times of Advent worship we will re-visit the prophets, re-read the gospels, sing the carols, and light the candles that remind us of peace, hope, love, and joy. If we dare to journey through this season at a slower pace with ears wide open, we may sense the pre-natal anxiety of Mary and Joseph, catch the scent of rustic shepherds, see the brightness of the Christmas star, and hear both the sounds of Angels singing and the sobs of Rachel weeping.
Then, without the props of clamor and clutter, we may discover that we are more than ready to follow Christ from the cradle to the cross and beyond.
(Barry Howard serves as the Senior Minister at First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)