I know, I know... it’s not the season of Advent just yet; but given that the holiday season has nonetheless begun in earnest, now seems a fitting time and place for me to make a difficult but heartfelt confession: for you see, where Christmas is concerned, I have often been known to “rush the season.”
Hard as this is for me to admit, it’s true. Whereas most rational people hold off on their holiday preparations until the Advent season has gotten underway, or at the very least on Thanksgiving weekend, I can hardly go much past the beginning of November before I quietly start to dig out my Christmas CD’s for an early bit of Yuletide cheer! Of course, as a church pastor, I can easily make the case that there are Advent and Christmas worship services that need to be planned well in advance, so it’s nothing less than my duty to get started early; but ultimately, this is all just an excuse for jumping the gun, because the truth is, I love the Christmas season and look forward to it coming around again every year!
Actually, I love everything about this time of the year, and I never tire of it: the beautiful music, both of the sacred and secular variety; Christmas trees draped in hundreds of tiny lights; even facing down the mass of holiday shoppers in search of that one special gift. And I’m especially fond of gathering for worship in these weeks before Christmas – this year in particular, as I’m greatly looking forward to our first Christmas together as pastor and parish! I love singing the old familiar carols as though they were brand new; lighting the Advent Candles one at a time, until at last our beautiful sanctuary is filled with the light of the Christ Candle; sharing the “journey” of Mary and Joseph as they make their way to Bethlehem, while shepherds quietly keep watch and magi look to a star in the East. Truly, every year at this time I feel privileged to tell the story yet again: God’s wonderful story of divine love come down to earth in the form of a tiny, helpless baby, born in a manger.
It seems to me that there’s never enough time to reflect upon such a wondrous gift!
On the Christian calendar, Advent has been set aside as a season for watching and waiting; time for prayerful anticipation of the festival of Christ’s birth while also keeping close eye to the horizon for signs of Christ’s promised return. Those who strive to be liturgically correct will tell you that the only proper time to celebrate the holy birth is in due season; that is, on December 25 and the days following – some even decry the singing of carols until Christmas Eve! If you worship with us at East Church in the coming weeks, you will soon discover that I don’t feel that way; I’ve always thought that whereas there are many beautiful and meaningful Advent hymns to sing this time of year, for me not to include Christmas hymns in our worship through the month of December would be pastorally cruel! Moreover, in these days when the true meaning of Christmas has too often been muted by a changing culture, we miss what is the ultimate task of our Christmas celebration: to spread the angels’ message of “good news of great joy for all the people” in the Christ Child!
How sad it is that this generation’s children have to be taught the words to “Silent Night” and be reminded that “the Christmas Story” is not the one about the Grinch, but rather a rich story of the joyous mystery of God’s presence and the healing of the nations, with shepherds, magi and angels singing in fields all there to proclaim that because of this child in the manger, life and the world will never be the same. Yes, some would say we rush the season; but I say there’s not nearly enough time to tell that incredible story!
Christmas is all about good news; news that needs to be told in this and every season. No, it isn’t Advent just yet, but now is the time for us to start preparing the way – filling up our senses, our minds and our souls with the news of God’s coming – so we’re ready to tell this news with whole hearts and loud voices!
And as this year’s holiday season now rushes in, may God rest you merry, gentlefolk.
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry