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Nov 20, 2014

Whatever Happened to Advent?

Have you noticed how Thanksgiving tends to be overshadowed, almost lost in the rush towards Christmas? And before we know it Christmas is everywhere! It used to be that Black Friday was the beginning of the Christmas rush but now it begins on Thanksgiving Day. We barely have an entire day to celebrate the holiday with our friends and families before we're off to the mall to grab those "2 hour only" lowest prices ever...limited quantities of course! Talk about rushing the season!

Used by permission

It’s been this way for a long time, years in fact. I remember as a child hearing my mother complain about the rushing of the season, the hurrying into Christmas, and the overlooking of Advent. She complained about the full-speed-ahead push for Christmas that began the day after Thanksgiving! Began the day after Thanksgiving?? That’s laughable today considering the rush into Christmas begins now in September and even earlier. In early September this year I saw Christmas decorations in a hobby/craft store. It was hot and humid outside and sandals were the typical footwear...definitely not normal footwear for the Christmas holidays in central Illinois. It made me stop and do a calendar check. OK, this is September right?

When I was a kid our Christmas tree never went up any earlier than the week before Christmas and I believe that was a concession my mother made to us because we begged for it. Those were the days when artificial trees looked like green bottle brushes so we always had a real tree, complete with all that lovely silver tinsel that was attracted to everything and could still be found lurking in the corners or under the cushions of the couch many months later. My parents were concerned about the possibility of a fire with those hot lights (seriously, you couldn't touch them for long) sitting on dry evergreen branches, so we never had any lights on our tree. Which was disappointing. I remember my friend’s tree with those big, HOT, colorful lights and was always jealous.

Our tree was not torn down shortly after Christmas as so many do today...(although I do have a friend who has been known to keep her tree up until February). Our tree usually stayed up until January 6, the Feast of Epiphany, the day that celebrates the coming of the Three Kings to worship Jesus. Yes, my mother was a firm believer in the 12 Days of Christmas, not just a fun song with a catchy tune, but an actual season of the Christian Church calendar and our tree remained up until the end of those 12 Days. Traditionally the first day of Christmas begins at sunset on Christmas Eve and ends on Jan 5. Epiphany, celebrated on January 6 was the day our Christmas celebrations officially came to an end.

Can you imagine celebrating Christmas in that way? Heavens no! Christmas officially begins on Black Friday doesn't it, or is it Thanksgiving now? Aren’t most people looking forward to normalcy after the hustle and bustle and debt of the four plus weeks of the Christmas season? After all, by the day after Christmas or at least by Jan 1 most of us have had enough and are more than ready to take down the decorations, slow the pace, and get life back to normal!

I don’t want to sound like Scrooge shouting Bah! Humbug! Please don’t get me wrong. I love the Christmas season as much or more than anyone. I love the music, the movies, the traditions, the food, the colors, the tree, the ornaments, the gift giving, the gift crafting, the gift crocheting, the family gatherings. I love it all. But I also wish it didn’t rush in on us, pushing so hard, causing unrealistic expectations and putting so many in debt. It’s rather depressing to be paying for Christmas long after the decorations are packed away and it's warm enough to be wearing sandals again. No, not fun at all!

So whatever happened to Advent? Advent, like the Twelve Days of Christmas, is also a season of the Christian Church calendar. It’s a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, November 30 this year, and ends on Christmas Eve. The word Advent means “the coming” in Greek. It is a time to reflect on the first coming of Jesus (see my previous post on the Jesse Tree), to prepare our hearts, to consider what His coming did for us, and to look forward to His Second Coming sometime in the future. But I’m afraid the idea of Advent gets lost in all the merry making of Christmas, a time so busy there’s just no time for reflecting. Sadly, for the most part, Jesus is forgotten at Christmas time.

We sing Christmas songs instead of Advent songs in the weeks preceding Christmas. I’ve already confessed to loving all the Christmas music. But did you know there are actually Advent songs too? Songs that stir our hearts and help us to reflect on the Incarnation, on the coming of the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. Songs that make us realize just how needy we truly are. One of them is probably very familiar to everyone, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

But there are others as well that you might not be as familiar with...

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
Come Thou Font of Every Blessing
Comfort, Comfort Ye My People
Saviour of the Nations, Come
O Come Divine Messiah
Hark, A Thrilling Voice is Sounding

A google search will produce even more.

I hope during the weeks ahead you will not miss Advent in all the busyness of Christmas. I hope you will be able to carve out some time to reflect, to anticipate the coming of Jesus, to consider what His coming has done for you. And maybe even learn a new Advent song or two.

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