Thanksgiving is over and now we can look forward to the Christmas holiday season. The retail shopping experience seems to start earlier and earlier each year as the decorated Christmas trees have adorned the store aisles since before Halloween. It is a holiday filled with lights, beautifully decorated trees, Christmas carols, parties, and a time of buying gifts for people we care about. Little children are excited to see Santa and insist that they have been nice rather than naughty and excitedly hand the jolly bearded one their long wish lists. The adults scramble from store to store searching for just the right present to put under the tree. It can a fun but hectic four weeks!
Not everyone celebrates this season as people of the Christian faith. Different cultures have a variety of traditions during this holiday season that are fun and unique to them. I have heard many Christians complain that we need to “keep Christ in Christmas.” For Christians, Christ is Christmas. However, many of the events that surround the holiday time are man-made traditions such as decorating a tree, visiting Santa Claus, imagining Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and singing Christmas songs that tell us to “Deck the Halls” and celebrate “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Even the gift buying we do for our loved ones has evolved from the three simple gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, which were given to Jesus by the wise men, has been elevated to a whole new level of expectation of the latest gadgets. Because of all of the different faiths and cultures that participate in the Christmas holiday, I don’t have a problem with someone wishing me “happy holidays” or “seasons greetings.” Christmas has become a commercial venue for retailers that want to sell us wonderful stuff to buy. We all get caught up in the season. This is why I believe the Advent season is so important to me as a woman of faith.
Advent is about hope. The word Advent means “coming” or “visit” and offers believers time to anticipate the coming of a Messiah or anointed one. The Jews spent hundreds of years waiting and anticipating the promised Messiah who would deliver them from the oppression of the ruling power. They were hoping that a Messiah would appear just as the Old Testament seers prophesied for generations. They were living in the hope of the Messiah.
There are different kinds of hope. There is the wishing hope that most of us are familiar with in our lives. We say things like, “we hope you get what you want for Christmas” or “I hope you like my new dress,” or there is this, “I hope I get an A on this test.” This hope is a wishing kind of hope. When we use hope in this way, it sounds like we are leaving room for disappointment just in case you are not happy with your gift or you do not like the dress or maybe I won’t get an A. When Israel hoped for the Messiah, they were expecting a Messiah. They did not know when, where or how but they were confident it would happen because God had given them a promise. I have heard this type of hope described as a “robust hope.” I like that description because it means strength and firmness, like a strong and firm hope in the promise. This is the same type of hope that comes with the each Advent season. It is our belief in the promise that God is in the midst of our lives each and every day guiding our paths. Each Sunday during this season, blue or purple candles are lit in anticipation of the babe’s birth and finally on Christmas Eve, the white Christ candle shines with a flame to signify that God is with us. Each year, we have a robust hope that the Christ child will come and that God’s light shines in and through us in the midst of our daily lives all year long.
The Advent season gives us time to anticipate the baby Jesus, but also it is an opportunity to show how God’s hope and love is reflected in our lives. If we seriously want to keep Christ in Christmas, then are we showing the world the Christ that lives in us? We are a reflection of the baby in the manger. Are we treating others with respect when shopping for those last minute gifts? Are we showing retail employees respect and patience because we understand that they are tired and weary of working long hours with crabby customers? Are we giving our time and money to people who really need our help? The hope of Advent gives us so much to look forward to in the Christ child. This is our time to shine the light of hope, a robust hope, to a hurting world as we rest in the confidence that God is already here shining a light into the holiday season.