Day 1: Rediscovering Advent
Odds are that at his very moment you’re surrounded or even bombarded by the sights and sounds of a modern Christmas. Before Halloween stores were busy pitching the hottest gifts and decorations for the newest holiday season. As early as the first week in November many radio stations embraced an “all Christmas song” format that included such “classics” as “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and the Singing Dogs version of “Jingle Bells.” Meanwhile, newspaper flyers and television commercials have alerted you to the “must-buys” of the season. Added to all of this are all the places you had to be including choir practices, committee meetings and food drives. And then there’s the endless ringing of the bells on seemingly every corner of every city in the country. Driving across town, it may seem that Santa and his elves are everywhere.
Like a hungry monster in a 1950s horror film, Christmas seems to be constantly stalking you, all the while continually looking for new ways to consume your time, energy, spirit and pocketbook. No wonder many people get so overcome with the “anxiety of the season” that they try hide from all things associated with the Yule Tide. Therefore as we look to the next twenty-five days and explore the ways to get the most joy, substance and fun out of this Christmas, it’s probably best to begin our exploration long before the arrival of commercialization. Our first step in restoring the real message of the holidays will be made by taking a look at one of the season’s earliest traditions. By knowing and embracing the original concepts of Advent, the true spiritual aspects of the holidays can power us through the modern craziness and take us to place where we acknowledge the spiritual depth that comes through knowing the real reason this all began in the first place.
Advent is all too often a foreign concept for many people. They have heard of it and they almost always associate it with the Christmas season, but even most Christians simply cannot put a finger on what it means or how it ties into the holidays. This lack of understanding is true for not only those who do not attend church, but also for millions who never miss Sunday services. Many denominations simply do not recognize this old, sacred Christian tradition, while many other groups fail to explain Advent in ways that bring meaningful spiritual understanding to this custom. No matter whether you are Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, inter-denominational or you’re affiliated with any other organized or unorganized element of Christian faith, if you really want to kick-start your chances at experiencing a rich and meaningful Christmas it helps to understand and then truly embrace Advent.
Let’s take a look at why the meaning Advent has been lost for many people. Before 1940, the retail holiday season was relatively short. Many people didn’t even think about Christmas until around December 20. A great deal of the shopping and almost all the decorating were done on Christmas Eve. What transformed this time honored week of Christmas into a full six-week holiday experience was World War II. With millions of Americans fighting a war in foreign lands that lay across two different oceans, President Roosevelt asked families to shop and mail their gifts early. To insure that loved ones overseas received their packages these parcels were to be given to mailmen no later than the first week in December. Thus, in 1942 the Christmas rush began even before Thanksgiving.
By the time the war ended four years later the mold had been cast and Christmas had grown into over a month of sales, songs and entertainment. On the surface it was great for stores and seemingly enjoyable for most people too. Yet sadly lost in much of this merriment were many of the old time-honored church traditions that had always been connected to the holiday. One of those seemingly buried the deepest was Advent. Now it is a time to shine the spotlight on this tradition and embrace it as it was originally intended.
Advent is a Latin word meaning “the coming.” The Christmas tie into Advent dates back to the sixth century when Church leaders dedicated a special time to properly focus men, women and children on the real meaning of Christ’s birth and his life. If you are looking for a way to put the real reason for the season (as well as a lot of joy) back into your holidays, it’ss time to bone up on some powerful and meaningful historic Christian teaching.
Advent was originally meant to be a time when Christians reflected on the true meaning of Christmas. In other words, this was a part of the holiday that was supposed to be packed with great spiritual revelation. This was a roadmap people were to follow all the way to the manger. During the “dark ages” millions treasured the joy found in Advent. In our modern commercial world, with all of its distractions, this kind of contemplation of the “coming” would seem to be more important than ever. Hence the information age is the perfect time to go back to the roots of Advent.
In the beginning Advent started on the nearest Sunday to November 30 and ran until Christmas Eve. Essentially the church leaders of the day set aside four weeks to consider what the coming of Jesus meant to not only the world, but to every individual’s soul. Though it was promoted by the church, Advent was meant to be a time of personal retrospect and growth for each believer. So for those uptight souls who complain that the real meaning of the season has been lost in the noise of jingling cash register bells, it is time to take a second look at quiet peace found in experiencing a real Advent.
More than fourteen hundred years after the first Advent season, many families use the symbols of Advent, but sadly most do not grip the full meaning behind these symbols. While lighting candles and opening calendars can be wonderful traditions, how many take a moment to pause and reflect on their faith? Sadly it’s few, because many don’t know the real reason Advent was created. Knowing what Advent is changes everything!
Consider the following three reasons for Advent:
1. Reflect on what it means for God to come to earth in human form as a baby.
We see the baby Jesus everywhere during this time of the year, but do we think of God when we think about that infant? . Even at Christmas many of us never stop to consider the miracle of God having loved his children so deeply that he would place himself in a body that was like ours. This “unawareness” can change if, like the early Christians, we start our first day of December by considering this miracle birth and what it actually means to our lives.
Consider this fact: No one has ever changed the world in such a lasting way as did Jesus. Reflecting about how different everything is because of his life and teachings is such an awesome concept that it should make anyone want to honor his birthday. After you have chewed on the historical impact of Christ for a few moments, add his divinity to this equation. Billons of children have been born but there has never been another like this one child. That alone is a powerful reason to really celebrate Christmas. Just considering this one facet of Advent might give you a new and fuller perspective of the holiday.
2. Consider how how accepting Jesus as savior changed your very existence.
For just a few minutes think beyond his birth and consider the life of Christ. Think about what he said and did. Now consider the power and influence of Jesus’ life on your actions, thinking and faith. When you realize that you react differently, feel differently and are more compassionate because of a child born in a manger, then that dramactic life-changing and life-reshaping historical experience should be enough to make you want to fully enjoy this year’s holiday season. Just thinking about Christ’s life should also motivate you to want to put his teachings into practice as a way of celebrating the day of his birth.
3. Recognize that Jesus will be coming back.
While the second coming used to be an important facet of each Christian holiday, by and large it is no longer a part of Christmas Advent. That’s why it’s important to consider what Jesus would think if he spent some time with you during this holiday season. Would he see your excitement in the way you greeted others. What would he think as he observed you preparing for the special day? Would he be able to recognize your faith in the way you reached out to others? Would he observe you living out his commandants to reach out to the least of these? Would he see himself in you at Christmas?
If you live each day of the holiday season carrying the spirit of Jesus in your heart and reflecting his compassion as you would if you knew he was beside you, your days will be truly joyful from now through Christmas and well beyond. Embracing this living concept means you will also lift others up with your smile, your energy and your obvious joy.
One of the holidays most beloved carols is “The First Noel.” This song reminds each of us to look back at the beginnings of Christmas and focus on what that moment meant to us and the world. Noel literally translates as a loud and triumphful greeting that trumpets our great joy and faith. Thus each moment of the Advent, each and every day of it, is a time when we are to remind ourselves what a miraculous thing happened when the babe was born in Bethlehem. And we need to remember, it happened not just to Mary and Joseph, a few wise men and some shepherds, it also happened to us!
Right now Christmas might seem like a long way away. The chores your have lying in front of you might seem to be too much to handle. The road you have to travel to get to the 25th might be all up hill. But if you will focus on the three original lessons found in the historic Advent, you will not only successfully navigate the next few weeks, you will enjoy them as you never have before!
Of all the wonderful elements of Christmas that have sprung forth over the years, Advent, in its original form, remains a strong foundation stone to hold your focus firmly onto the spiritual aspect of the holidays. Advent is the perfect place to begin your experiencing the full joy of the holiday season.
A Shortcut to the Spirit of the Season: There are twenty-four chapters in the Gospel of Luke. By reading one of the chapters a day you can created a Bibical Advent calendar that will put your focus on the birth, life and promise of Christ.
25 Days 26 Ways
To Make This Your Best Christmas Ever
This book was one that I just had to write. I love Christmas and it frustrates me that so many get so caught up in the stress of the season they miss the real wonder, magic and joy of the holidays. Read one chapter a day of this between December 1st and December 26th, and I think you will keep your focus on the incredible potential and majesty of the best time of the year and the best days of your life! So don't just mark your calendar for Christmas, embrace and squeeze all the wonder these specials days have for you and those you love.