Saving Christmas by Practicing Advent
In his humorous novel Skipping Christmas, John Grisham tells the story of Luther and Nora Krank, a middle-aged couple who are sick and tired of all the expense and bother involved in preparing for the holiday season. They calculate how much they normally spend on Christmas decorations, gifts, and food and realize that if they skip Christmas, they can afford to take a 10-day Caribbean cruise. After booking tickets for the cruise, they settle down for a season of non-celebration.
Much to their dismay, the Kranks discover that skipping Christmas is harder than they imagined. Their neighbors are angry to hear that the family will not be putting lights on their home, ruining their street’s chance to win the best-decorated-block award. Others are offended that the Kranks are not supporting the Boy Scouts by purchasing a tree at the kids’ fund-raiser. Local businesses are shocked to learn that the couple will not be spending money that year, thus failing to invest in the town’s economy. Finally, the Kranks give in to pressure from family and friends and decide to celebrate Christmas after all, rediscovering (as modern-day Scrooges) the magic of the season.
Grisham’s novel lampoons a problem many of us experience. Christmas has become so commercialized and secularized in our society that it often does not feel like fun anymore. It has become a season where we spend money we don’t have to buy gifts we can’t afford for people who don’t need them anyway. It has become a non-stop marathon of relentless activity. Many of us, like the Kranks, have fantasized of finding a way to skip Christmas.
I wonder if it is time for us to rediscover the ancient practice of Advent. Advent is a liturgical tradition that dates back as far as the 5th century. In most churches, the Advent season is comprised of the four Sundays that lead up to Christmas. In Advent, Christians re-live the longing of ancient Israel as they awaited the coming of Messiah and embrace our own longing as we await Messiah’s return. During the weeks of Advent, we often hear Scripture readings that focus on the end times, the coming Kingdom, and the ministry of John the Baptist. We remember how dark and desperate the world was into which Jesus was born. And we are reminded that no matter how dark and desperate our world may seem now, we have unfading hope, because our Savior will certainly return.
Celebrating Advent, of course, doesn’t mean you cannot buy your mom a new scarf and serve egg nogg to your friends. We can still participate in the cultural celebrations of the season along with everyone else. But practicing Advent means that, on Sundays in December, when we gather in God’s presence to worship, we get a little break from all the hub-bub of the shopping season. We are given the gift of joining Christians around the world and through the centuries in joyfully longing for our Lord’s return.
After four weeks of Advent, when Christmas finally arrives, it still feels fresh and amazing. Because we have not worn out the Christmas message by harping on it since mid-November, the news of the virgin’s newborn son fills us again with astonishment and joy. Like the shepherds in Bethlehem, we spend the 25th “glorifying and praising God for all the things [we have] heard and seen” (Luke 2:20).
So perhaps the antidote to the crass commercialism of Christmas is not skipping Christmas. Maybe the solution is remembering not to skip Advent.
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