Over the years, the “Holiday Season” had become more empty, stressful, and exhausting than it should be. Couple that with the confusing messages this can send to your children about greed, materialism, and empty religiosity and it’s enough to make even the most devout turn into a Scrooge. In an effort to fight this cultural tide and taking the focus off of the enslaving consumerist drive that becomes almost automatic, I have found help in celebrating the birth of our Savior by going old school- observing Advent.
Observing the church calendar probably deserves a post all on its own. Having been brought up in a non-denominational environment, the church calendar was somehow suspect- too “religious” for the churches I had attended. As I started attending a church that did observe these aspects of traditional Christianity, I began to notice what a richness and fullness this added to the entire year, especially the Christmas season. Christmas wasn’t just a few weeks of obnoxious and sentimental songs about reindeer, bells, and the occasional song about a babe in a manger sung by Bing Crosby. Instead, it became an anticipation of a promised hope to a lost world. The church service itself has a different feel: the clergy wears different vestments signifying this is a special time. The liturgy is different and more celebratory. It’s truly Advent for a reason, as we await the arrival of the King.
Nine Lessons and Carols
Our church also has an annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols service. This was traditionally the Christmas Eve service at Kings College in Cambridge, England. Our little church celebrates this a few weeks before. It’s a wonderful night of – well, nine Lessons (nine scripture readings), and Carols (nine songs). Our little congregation puts a lot of effort to make this a special service and I look forward to it every year. Check and see if there is a service going on in your area, it’s worth the effort.
Back at home, we celebrate as well. We get out our advent wreath, and each week on Sunday night we light a new candle with the kids and the neighbor kids as we look to the hope of the Savior to our world. Doing that makes December a four-week celebration of anticipating the Savior, and is a welcome centering tool from the barrage of ads and craziness outside our door. I wasn’t sure if the neighbor kids found it worth doing last year (our first-year trial). I asked one of them if they would like to come over again on Sunday nights to light an advent candle- “Heck yes we do!” was her excited response. I guess Advent is coming again to our street this year.
Finally, I have taken up the habit of finding an Advent devotional to go through for the season. Last year I took up N.T. Wright’s series Advent for Everyone. I was planning on going through it again this year (he has three different books for each year in the lectionary), but instead I found at the recommendation of my wife Biola University’s Advent Project. This multifaceted devotional has a corresponding piece of artwork, musical selection, poetry selection, and reading followed by prayer. It can also be emailed to you daily. Thus far it appears to be very well done and I am looking forward to each day’s selection as we move through the season.