All Saints Episcopal Church, Hilton Head Island, SC
December 1, 2006
Advent 2006 - "a time of preparation."
Thank God there are only four weeks in Advent. In fact, the culture that surrounds us would give us an additional three weeks in preparation for Christmas. The cultural, first-world understanding of Christmas preparation, what Christians call Advent, is primarily about the outward and visible. The Church's understanding of Advent, however, has everything to do with the inward and spiritual.
It's not hard to realize which preparation, culture or Church, wins out in the hearts of people. In fact, it is a popular practice among Christians to make a resolution (often just after Christmas) to not repeat the frenetic pace that propels us into doing that which is outward and visible rather than being and moving ever so carefully to a place that speaks profoundly of the incarnation.
But we have told ourselves, in fact probably convinced ourselves, that that is impossible...too much shopping, too many gifts, too many parties, too many ''things'' to be done, too many details. In a very clearer message, repeated over and over again., year after year, generation after generation, Christmas is the end result of "things" received and given. One could say that "Advent" and "Christmas" have been quietly stolen from Christianity and, in a unique twist, Christians have bought into the cultural understanding of Advent and Christmas. Advent is no longer a period of time that spiritually points us to the incarnation as a moment in world and human history. Rather, it is seen as the end of a long and exhausting marathon. Do we arrive at Bethlehem having made all the wrong preparations?
Now here are some radical ideas offered midway through Advent. Forget most of the parties and gather together the children and rediscover together the joy and wonder of your family and marriage. Discover again what is absolutely essential and beautiful about the persons you love and can't live without Consider that fewer is better than many when it comes to gifts, even for the children. How about that one gift that speaks so lovingly for another person, that one precious gift that has to do with meaning, that has no inherent price tag. And then, an idea even more radically Christian in concept, the family gift to humanity...a cow (yes, a cow) for a third world village, or a short-term family mission trip when the family can pull together for others...so that the children can see that Christmas is not only about opening presents but discovering that a gift given is not always tangible and paid for with money.
The message of Christmas is very simple and yet profound: God's supreme gift to the world is the word made flesh, a gift of a reconciler who knows no limits of love. How can we take that message and manage to show that outwardly to a world so desperate for that kind of love?
Let us, as Christians, reclaim Advent's preparation and Christmas's gift of love into our own faith and values. The world has claimed Advent and Christmas for far too long. The meaning of Advent and Christmas is rightfully Christian in nature and rightfully ours to share.
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