My husband and I are on a cross country (and back) adventure this fall. Last weekend, we arrived in Moab, Utah and checked into our hotel where we would stay for a couple days while we explored Arches National Park. The hotel staff was busy that afternoon, decorating the lobby for Christmas. It was November 12.
Earlier that day, while we were channel surfing on Sirius in our car, we came upon one of their special Christmas channels. It wasn’t the first time we had encountered Christmas music along our journey, well before Thanksgiving.
Everyone’s getting decked out for Christmas. It’s not like this is anything new. Christmas has been moving further and further into the fall. Every year it seems to inch closer to summer.
The annual jump to Christmas is difficult for me. While I fully realize that the general culture is less and less Christian and that Christmas has been almost completely taken over as a secular observance, I can’t help being forlorn at the absence of Advent. Even those who approach Easter as some sort of secular celebration of spring, usually recognize— if not appreciate— that there is a season of significance that precedes it.
Advent, however, is a season in name only, insofar as “Advent” calendars have become such a huge marketing bonanza. What better way to usher in Christmas than a daily gift to oneself? I’ll admit that my husband and I enjoy a certain kind of very festive Advent calendar in December. But, I also have an Advent devotional calendar and practice.
It’s one thing for the secular world to festoon itself in all things Christmas, weeks and months before the actual day. But, it feels strange and unsettling when the church goes along with rushing to Christmas, casting Advent aside. Advent is important, as Lent is. Yet, it is so often casually set aside or buried under the busyness of this time of year.
Years ago, when I was a much younger clergyperson, an older colleague who served a nearby Congregational/United Church of Christ church, had a very strict policy when it came to Advent. That policy involved the religious observance and practice of Advent. No Christmas decorations, no Christmas music, no Christmas anything, until Christmas Eve. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, there was Advent. I think of him every year when I arrive at church on the first Sunday of Advent and find the sanctuary mysteriously completely saturated in Christmas decorations. During my second or third Advent at Old South, I spoke to the chair of the decorating committee about maybe holding off a bit on the decorating bonanza. She looked at me like I had three heads and then she made it perfectly clear to me that the Christmas decorations go up right after Thanksgiving. It was the tradition and it was going to stay that way.
The mind-numbing abundance of Christmas, to the point of overload, makes it a challenge for the faithful to be adequately mindful of the season of Advent, when we are called to spend time contemplating the coming of the Savior into the world. This is no small thing, in looking to the past, to the future and to the present as well. The world may not be interested in helping us out, but for the observant, there is much to be gained from observing the season of preparation, of attuning ourselves yet again to the profound mysteries of how God interacts with human beings.