There are some holidays that just thrill us to think of them. Sometimes it’s because of a particular memory, and sometimes it’s just because of the thrill of the things that are traditional to the holiday.
One of my favorite holidays is Advent. I separate it from Christmas, because Advent is my worship portion of that time of year. This is where I take time out for my Creator who kept His word to all humanity, in spite of the centuries of time that it took to make it happen. It’s enthralling to consider why God waited until all of humanity was able to know about the promised Messiah. This was thanks to the Roman roads and authority that kept travel safe, and also promoted the transfer of knowledge between civilizations. There needed to be a way for most of humanity to learn of God’s promise, and then of how it unfolded with a newborn birth of a babe in a manger.
There’s a song titled, “It’s About the Cross” that was popularly recorded by Philips, Craig and Dean, and I like it – but it’s wrong. Advent is a great deal about the Promise coming true, more than the cross. The cross is critical to the fulfillment of the Promise, that’s true. But Advent is about preparing for the Messiah’s coming, and acknowledging that we needed Him. The cross comes after that, and has a place all its own. There’s no need to blend them, or there is a danger of overlooking the singular value of each occasion on its own. The cross gets our focus at Lent and Easter, and it deserves separate consideration.
So, Advent is where I intentionally make a quiet place in time for me to ponder the significance of God’s promise to send a Messiah from Davidian lineage to overcome the enemy that caused Humanity’s fall. This is where I consider that God chose to send His Son because no other person in time could do what needed to be done. This is where I consider how he arrived at the decision to send Jesus – Yeshua in Hebrew – as a babe with a birth that would be witnessed and noted significantly by people of that time. You have to hold a newborn infant closely, not just stand back in awe. They must be embraced and given focused attention, or they will not thrive. I’m reminded that my love for God has to be like that, close and with focus – or I will not thrive.
Traditionally, Europeans would use Advent wreaths for devotional expression during the four weeks preceding the celebration of the infant birth. The wreath would lay on a table, or be suspended horizontally from a ceiling, with four candles on the wreath and one in the middle. Coming from a European background, I embrace that tradition with its quiet influence.
As I raised my young children, we honestly enjoyed the Advent wreath ceremonies very much. Some nights we might start out feeling pushed into something inconvenient. But every time we were at the end of the worship activities, it felt a bit sad to blow out the candles and turn on the lights for all of us. Sometimes we just didn’t do it right away. We’d enjoy some treats and just visit a bit and talk about whatever we wanted to talk about.
There were some weeks that we missed lighting the newest candle. That was ok, since there were other nights when we could light up more than one. It was rare for us to miss the final week when all four candles would be lit.
Christmas, for me, was the secular and happy occasion that followed Advent. I could allow Godly memes and themes to influence my decoration choices, and certainly my song lists; but I admitted that it was secular, and still joyous and happy. It was where I could shop and give gifts, and dress up for happy occasions, as well as gather with family and friends for good food and perhaps some games and teasing.
Once all of the children were grown and flown, and I was on my own, I would choose to set up an Advent wreath and forgo the decking of a tree. My time was limited with work or perhaps my health wasn’t up to the work of a tree. A wreath was simpler and more possible. It was also more beneficial to me, than the hustle and bustle of the secular holiday.
Some folks are working hard on making Christmas their act of worship, and I don’t think that they are wrong at all. I just couldn’t make it work for me. Just as there are so many different ways to decorate a Christmas tree, there are so many ways for people to celebrate God in their lives. All of them are valid if what is being done stays focused on God more than the ceremonies or the decorations.
I couldn’t say that was true of my ability to celebrate Christmas most of the time. I certainly enjoyed more than one church program, service or musical performance, and basked in the warmth of the Pastor’s blessing as the congregation was reminded of our Creator’s intentions during this season. I’ve also positively pointed out to my children how the evergreen trees point toward their Creator, and how they are evergreen because they never die – like God’s love for us. I have definitely had a nativity scene for them to set up and discuss as well. But, it all tended to get overwhelmed in the holiday blur of baking all of the right foods, hurrying to each of the events, and ensuring we were dressed appropriately for the pictures that would be taken, as well as having all of the gifts bought and wrapped for the folks we didn’t want to forget. Advent never seemed to have that problem – for me.
Even a huge snowfall that might ruin the plans for the special visit with family or the musical event at church, or – whatever we thought we had to hurry to – even those plans didn’t matter if we chose to just stay home and light up the candles on the wreath when I had a family. As a single, senior aged, woman, it still doesn’t matter so much to me that it’s just me lighting the candles, reading scripture, and praying to God. This is where I keep my heart in the right condition to enfold the Messiah (or even letting the Messiah make my heart right to enfold Him) who came so long ago.
If I get no gifts, I know that the biggest gift was given to me before I knew I needed it. If I can give no other gifts, I try to offer the one I received much later than it was given. The gospel message and the offer of a Savior instead of a Judge. If I have no decorations, I will revel in the ones that others have worked on displaying, and let them know, when I can, how much it touched me to see and enjoy their efforts.
So, Advent is my favorite holiday at this time of year. How about you? What do you like most about this time of year, and what makes it consistently special even through a hard time of austerity?