Saturday, November 29, 2008

Considering Advent

I grew up in an Evangelical home, celebrating Christmas every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. I was in medical school when I first came in contact with the concept of Advent. Our church did the traditional Advent wreath during the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. In addition, they published an Advent reading/study guide for families to use during the holiday season. Our church now is very Evangelical and doesn't follow the church calendar except for Christmas and Easter, but does have and Advent wreath every year.

Over the last few years, I've learned more about Advent and how spending our time before Christmas pondering our need for a savior makes for a more meaningful Christmas time. I've become more concerned in the last couple of years about my family's (along with society's) materialism, particularly at Christmas. The last couple of Christmases in our house have become more simple because of our changing economic situation. This year, we're trying to focus more on others than ourselves by not putting Christmas gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve and by making most of our gifts this year. I've always been a fan of giving more than usual to charity at this time of year, and we will continue that tradition this year.

None of this means that I think that our society's Christmas traditions are inherently bad Christmas trees aren't evil, Santa Claus myths won't ruin your kids, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with giving gifts. The problem is that we are completely out of control. What used to be a fun season to give some extra gifts to people as we celebrate the greatest gift of God's love has become a stressful time of feeling obligated to give more than necessary, eat and drink too much, and neglect the important things in life. We've lost the time to focus on the birth of Jesus. I really like how Michael Spencer (the internet monk) says that we need to focus not on Jesus' birthday but on the incarnation of God. That's so much more profound than thinking only of a baby in a manger.

Our family isn't going to quit celebrating Christmas by any means. We love our traditions and we love to give gifts. But, we are simplifying things this year - buying less, doing less, and enjoying our friends and neighbors even more. I'm going to be looking at how we can incorporate some of the traditions of the church year into our family's life and make our celebration more meaningful.

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1 comment:

KC said...

How cool! We, too, are starting a family tradition of the Advent wreath today. I grew up with Advent in my church and it was a big event. It really does emphasize the focus of the season. I'm going to leave the wreath out in the middle of our kitchen table as a decoration, but also as a reminder during this "busy season" what it's all about. I got a Advent guide online that gives the scripture reading and devotional for lighting each candle, including the Christ candle.