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The diminishment of Advent

The diminishment of Advent

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Advent Boxes

Advent boxes at Redwood United Methodist Church

I have a friend on Facebook who decorated their house for Christmas the day after Halloween. THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN! I can only imagine how his neighbors felt about it. I don’t live in the same state as this person, and I have mixed feelings about it, ranging from mild annoyance to extending some understanding. For most people, last Christmas was socially distant and different, and 2021 has not been an altogether normal year either. It’s understandable why someone might want to embrace some holiday cheer sooner than Dec. 1 or the day after Thanksgiving. If it costs nothing for me to mind my own business, why should I care about when someone else decorates for the holidays? What does it matter if the Christmas celebration begins early this year?

In some ways it doesn’t. I’ve already enjoyed a Starbuck’s Peppermint Mocha and have been singing Christmas music with the choir since September. In other ways, it does. There is the glossing over Thanksgiving (which is spiritually problematic, but a conversation for another time), and then there is what really concerns me – the diminishment of Advent.

Maybe all you’ve ever experienced of Advent has been a calendar with a piece of candy for 24 days. Like an Advent Calendar, the season of Advent is about expectation and waiting, but it’s more than a sweet treat. Advent encompasses the days leading up to Christmas Eve and begins four Sundays before Christmas. This year it is Nov. 28. It is meant to be a time of preparation and expectation as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus and Jesus’s return.

Perhaps, this is the first time you’ve ever heard of the holiday season named in this way. It may seem weird to think about the days leading up to Christmas as a time of intentional waiting for Jesus’s return. It is, however, an important practice of God’s people. It is important because it is about hope. It’s about the kind of hope that people are longing to experience when they decorate for Christmas early. We are yearning for something that replaces our present troubles with a different reality. The twinkling lights and familiar notes of Christmas music stir up in us those feelings of hope, love, and joy. It’s no wonder we desire to make something that is temporary like Christmas decorations more permanent. The problem is that Christmas decorations, Hallmark movies, and carols are not the answer. Jesus is.

God became flesh and bone in Jesus Christ in order to fulfill the promise of what God’s anointed savior would do: “to proclaim good news to the poor,” “to bind up the brokenhearted,” “to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” “recovery of sight to the blind, and the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19) Jesus came as the ultimate proof of God’s trustworthiness. What God says, God will do. God promised that a savior would come who would heal; Jesus healed. God promised a savior who would bring freedom for the captives; Jesus broke the chains of sin and death. God promised a time of God’s favor; Jesus came to impart God’s favor to the world through Jesus’s earthly ministry that he continues through his disciples, the church. Jesus first came to reverse the stranglehold of sin and evil that causes suffering and destruction. He did this through his teaching, healing, and as he drove out evil, as he suffered, died, and was resurrected. Jesus’s second coming will be a culmination of his first coming that breathes new life into all creation. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” (Revelation 21:4) The way things are, the world as it is now with famine, war, disease, hatred, betrayal, selfishness, homelessness, poverty, abuse, stealing, murder, pollution, and all other evils, will no longer exist. There will be a world where there is only hope, love, joy, and peace because that is the glorious Kingdom of God. God’s people are called to wait expectantly for that world through the way we live.

That is why at Redwood, we do a different kind of Advent Calendar that we call Advent Boxes. Like an Advent Calendar, Advent Boxes give but in a way that’s better than 24 days of chocolate. Instead of a daily dessert, we put an item into a box that will benefit someone else. This year, we are again filling boxes to benefit the Henry Fork Center. Beginning the first Sunday in Advent, we place an item into the box that will help the HFC continue its afterschool care and tutoring work with children in Franklin County. On Christmas Eve, we bring these back to church, place them before the manger, and pray a blessing for those who will receive them. In this way, we celebrate the birth of Christ and anticipate Jesus’s return as people who offer a glimpse of what will be in the here and now. As the church, the people of God, we are Advent people. Our lives are meant to be lived not for ourselves, but for a world that needs to know our present experience will not always be the future reality. It’s our lives not our decorations that reveals that truth. So, if we are going to decorate for Christmas, early or not, shouldn’t we Advent as well?

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