Approaching Advent

Well, how did you do?  Did you survive Black Friday and Cyber Monday with your sanity intact?  A friend passed along a story about a “woman who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable and after hours of hearing both her children asking for everything they saw on those many shelves, she finally made it to the elevator with her two kids. “She was feeling what so many of us feel during the holiday season time of the year. Overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming, taste all the holiday food and treats, get that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list, make sure we don't forget anyone on our card list, and the pressure of making sure we respond to everyone who sent us a card. "Finally the elevator doors opened in the parking garage, and there was already a crowd in there. She pushed her way into the elevator and dragged her two kids in with her and all the bags of stuff. When the doors closed she couldn't take it anymore and stated, ‘Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up, and shot.’ “From the back of the car everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, ‘Don’t worry we already crucified Him.’ For the rest of the trip down the elevator it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.” We may cluck at that woman, but the truth is, that could be me.  In my most patient mode I have little tolerance for shopping.  Furthermore, I suspect most of us have at one time or another hit our wall on this Christmas thing.  I invite us this morning to begin a search for the real spirit of Christmas.  To do so, we must start by taking a startling fresh look at Christmas. A number of years back I read a neat little book about Christmas written Dan Schaeffer entitled In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas. Dan Schaeffer opens his timely and fresh book with the statement:  “Each year, millions of people go in search of the real spirit of Christmas.  True, some want to find it only so they can try to package it and sell it.  But others gaze at the Christmas tree, the presents, and all the decorations and wonder: What is all this really about?” (Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, p. 9). “Some people,” Schaeffer notes, “are attracted to Christmas the way they’re attracted to a concert or the Super Bowl or the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. …[Others] do sense that there is a deeper holy meaning to this season, which at least temporarily satisfies their spiritual longings.  The shared excitement and anticipation are such wholesome emotions that many are attracted to the celebration of Christmas even when they don’t really know what it’s all about. … In other words, … they are like people at weddings who laugh louder and drink more than anyone else, and yet are not really close friends of either the bride or groom.  They’ve been invited because they work with the bride or groom or are friends of the couple’s parents  . . . but they have no real interest in the two who have just gotten married.  Their real interest is in the celebration” (Schaeffer, IBID, pp. 17-18). Writes Schaeffer, “This is the essential difference between those who possess the real Christmas spirit and those who don’t.  If you removed the trees, and the lights, and the poinsettias, and the decorations, and the presents, and the food, and the music, those with the real Christmas spirit would still celebrate” (Schaeffer, IBID, pp. 17-18).  Do you remember that marvelous little story by Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas?  How, after all the trimmings and presents were stolen, the Whos of Whoville still sang.  Such is the search for the real spirit of Christmas. To grasp the real Spirit of Christmas we must go back to the original story.  We must take a fresh look at a strange out of place scene, the crèche scene that adoringly decorates so many homes (including mine!).  A handful of words of Luke’s gospel – Luke 2:12 – challenge my conceptions.  “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” I envision a scene like so many of our crèche sets.  Mary and Joseph are dressed in beautiful clothes.  The setting is peaceful, gentle and enticing.  But the reality is far different.  God did not come to earth in a magnificent manger scene but in a cattle feeding trough.  Born a refugee in a time of terror, God enters human history among the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low. Early in her career, my wife engaged in some public health nursing.  She dealt with clients where the newborn baby’s crib was a box or a dresser drawer.  Such is a more apt analogy for God’s entrance in the world.  It is indeed a strange scene that presents itself to us at Christmas.  In our search for the real spirit of Christmas we must take a startlingly fresh look at a strange, compelling and challenging scene.  Here again God in Christ through the presence of the Holy Spirit moves in our midst as we approach advent.  This is one of the outrageous core claims at the heart of the Christian faith. Unlit Advent Wreath : Advent wreath with red candles Stock Photo