Lent or advent? Joy in a season of anticipation

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Young teenage girl meditating in candle light
For simple reasons of human error and re-print malfunction, our church bulletin this week read “First Sunday of Advent,” accidentally listing service details for the beginning of the Lenten season rather than Christmas.
It was an understandable and laughable mistake, but started me thinking a bit, too…when glancing at liturgical seasons, we consider Lent a time to pause and reflect on the life of Christ, contemplating our own lives in light of His and how we can serve Him. Often this involves sacrifice or denial, too. The attitude and trends of the Christmas season, by contrast, seem quite the opposite. We rush and worry and stress, barely pausing to enjoy the decorations we spend all day hanging. We make lists and wonder what we might get. Then after a flurry of parties, presents, and programs, we might attend a Christmas Eve service for a brief respite of hymns and verses…followed by last-minute wrapping and final Christmas Day fanfare…
So what if we adopted a more reflective mindset during this season? Putting aside some of our creche cliches and hectic scurrying, how can we truly contemplate the meaning of it all? In some ways, it is entirely appropriate to maintain an attitude similar to that of the Lenten period. After all, Advent means “coming,” and we are honoring and rejoicing in Christ’s coming. In fact, the origins of Advent came not in reference to the birth of Jesus but to his ultimate second coming. Advent was actually connected to baptism historically, and to early Christians preparing for it. So just as we prepare for Holy Week and consider Christ’s death during Lent, we can prepare for Christmas and contemplate His incarnation and life.
There is another element to this. Our modern enjoyment of Christmas is festive and celebratory. But the first Nativity involved quite a bit of turmoil and uncertainty. The time was marked by political chaos, competition, and fear. Mary and Joseph were on the run in the first years of Jesus’s life. This gives us pause. In a season marked all too often by requests and hopes and thinking of what we want, we ought to stop and think of what we might be able to give. During Lent we make sacrifices and give up conveniences to further our appreciation for Christ.
There is no reason we cannot take this celebratory season of Christmas time and honor our hope in the Messiah by giving of ourselves. But it is more than just abstaining from chocolate. Let’s not just give up, but give away by sharing with those who are in need, and by marveling in every aspect of God’s son, from cradle to cross. God became man for us. That is ultimately the meaning of Christmas…and of life itself.

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