There’s this Twitter account that’s sometimes funny and on point. I’m really hoping that my proceeding thoughts wouldn’t end up on some threads equivalent.
The sudden appearance of a Christmas carol or two in our church gathering on the last Sunday of November awakened me to my favourite part of the church calendar; Advent.
I grew up in a Christian family, but not in an Anglican tradition or a church that embraced liturgy that much. The church that I’m part of is a plant and in our few short years of existence, we’ve found that paying attention to the Church calendar has been helpful for a lot of young adults who are young in their faith. The repetition of certain creeds and prayers have helped me immensely – it turns out, praying old prayers is good for the soul – as has paying attention to the church calendar.
Advent, in particular, has been eye-opening. It’s provided me with a framework to approach Christmas that I haven’t previously had. The weightiness of the true message behind Christmas feels more substantial than ever, while the lure of the consumeristic angle has dimmed. The mulled wine, the gatherings of family and friend, the parties all have an added substance to them with this new – or new to me – lens.
Having a chance to reflect, as a church, on the expectation that the Old Testament people of God held as they yearned for the Messiah to return and institute His kingdom forever has been so helpful in processing what it means to live in expectation of Jesus. The words in the carols we sing now seem to have much more gravitas.
“Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.”
Which brings me to my bugbear.
In learning to appreciate Christmas under this new light, I’ve started to become a little uncomfortable with nativity plays. Hear me out… I promise, I’m not a Grinch! My son will turn two years old right before Christmas and I can’t wait until he’s asked to adorn a tea towel and dressing gown as shepherd boy number three. Seriously, I can’t wait. My reaction will be something akin to this (exchange ‘fluffy’ for ‘cute’).
Yet, after spending many years of being communicated the Christmas message as a bunch of pre-schoolers reciting lines while holding on to a doll, I’m convinced I’ve missed a trick.
There’s a need for us to move beyond a merely sentimental understanding of Christmas as “waiting for the baby Jesus” to an adult and social appreciation of the message of the incarnation of God in Christ. Richard Rohr said this:
We do the Gospel no favour when we make Jesus, the Eternal Christ, into a perpetual baby, a baby able to ask little or no adult response from us. One wonders what the mind is that would keep Jesus a baby. Maybe it was ‘baby Christianity.’
I’m not trying to make little of Jesus being born a child, I’m aware of the theological implications of God being born a man. I’m just reminding myself, more than anything else, that we’re not waiting on the return of, or worshipping baby Jesus. Just admitting that out loud makes me think of this clip from Talladega Nights.
For many of you who grew up in the Church, your experience of Christmas might have been similar to mine: present-demanding with a hat-tip to Jesus. Embracing the traditions of Advent has allowed me to get a grasp on the significance of the incarnation, and my hope has been strengthened as such. Just don’t make me sit through another nativity play. Or at least until my son gets to be in one. I’ll be up in Mount Crumpit in the meantime.