Christmas is mind-boggling when you think about it.
I don’t just mean the story itself, though the sheer brilliance of the Christmas account blows me away. A Messiah anticipated for thousands of years, coming during enemy occupation — as a baby? Angels announcing the infant’s birth by giving outcast shepherds directions to a feeding trough? Wise stargazers from faraway lands ghosting the king after dreams about his jealousy? Truly the stuff of an epic story.
But what I’m particularly amazed by is the collective fervor around even our modern Christmas celebrations. All over the world, store managers hire resident Santas, churches put on living Nativity reenactments, and friends host ugly Christmas sweater parties. Homeowners vie for Guinness record domination in Christmas light decorations. Americans buy 25 to 30 million live Christmas trees annually — though more people opt for artificial ones. Analysts think Christmas shoppers will each spend $1800 on Christmas shopping this year, despite half of Americans say they’ll be cutting back.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve already spent more time thinking about gift ideas and holiday plans than I have about a King in a manger. How can we ensure we don’t blow past the reason for all this joyful busyness?
Advent with intention
This past Sunday marked the official beginning of the Advent season. Advent, a shorter form of a Latin word meaning “coming,” memorializes the Israelites’ millennia-long wait for the Messiah. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Christians observe Advent to remind ourselves of the promises of God that Jesus has fulfilled.
Preparing for Christmas probably requires more intentionality than preparing for Easter. We face more distractions this time of year, and often more family obligations. With all the Christmas shopping and white elephant gift exchanges and (yikes) ugly Christmas sweater parties, December can be a blur. Why not carve out time to remind yourself of the reason for all this hubbub? Why not choose to step back and reorient your focus on the Savior who entered our misery, bringing peace and hope to our chaos and stress?
But this takes more than a chocolate Advent calendar.
I love the idea of Advent, but sometimes celebrating it becomes yet another thing on my to-do list. Also, some of the details confuse me. Which night do we light which color candle? What day do we start? I’m sure each of these detailed traditions overflows with meaning, but I think it’s OK to simplify your Advent preparation. Here are a few basic ideas to consider this year.
Read an Advent devotional book. Advent devotionals give us a bite-sized daily reminder of the magnitude of Christmas. A Christmas-specific Scripture reading plan is another great idea. For a few minutes a day, maybe as part of your quiet time, these plans or devotions can help you focus on the meaning behind our celebrations. Your to-do list and social calendar may still be full, but for a little while each day all of that can take a backseat.
Give something up. Many of us do this for Easter, observing the classic Lenten practice. Why not adjust the tradition for the weeks leading up to Christmas? I decided to take a break from social media this December. I may have to hop on occasionally, but I’m avoiding killing time on Facebook or “just checking” when I feel bored. I’ve only been off social media for a couple of days and already I can tell a difference: so much less focus on what other people have or do. I’m freed up to prioritize the relationships closest to me in real life.
Go to a Christmas event or service that isn’t at your church. Don’t skip your church’s events, but consider finding another event to attend elsewhere. Maybe if your church doesn’t host a Christmas Eve service, you can visit a nearby church that evening. Or maybe you can attend a Christmas cantata earlier in the season. At an event at a church besides your own, you won’t have responsibilities and you’ll be less likely to think about who you need to talk to after the service. It could free you up to focus on the content of the message and music.
Advent with authenticity
Don’t let these ideas be simply another to-do list. Find what helps you and chuck the rest. Or maybe you have another idea for how to reorient your focus on Christ.
This December will likely still be busy, and that’s OK. Jesus came to a world that has tasks and responsibilities, and He promises that He works in us even in seemingly un-spiritual activities. But maybe in the middle of the busyness and the excitement, you can set aside enough time to remind yourself that it isn’t about the gifts or the parties or the limited-time-only peppermint chocolate chip milkshakes.
Even celebrating Advent isn’t the point. Ultimately, we want all our activity this season — the busyness and the intentionality — to pull us closer to our God. He came to us at our lowest. Even at our busiest, we don’t want to miss another opportunity to see Him.
Copyright 2022 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.