Monday, November 19, 2007

“Shop and Prepare”

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and the shopping frenzy has begun. Actually, some stores opened late in the evening on Thanksgiving Day, and many others opened at midnight or 1:00 a.m. this morning. Those who create economic indices will be watching carefully to see what kind of money was spent today. By Monday, the business sections will be full of comparisons and prognostications. Was this year better or worse than last year? Will retailers end in the black? How much will the sub-prime mortgage crash affect consumer willingness to spend during this holiday season?

Many churches, on the other hand, will be imploring people, “Don’t forget what Christmas is all about! Remember, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’” We’ll be saying, “Slow down—this is a time of preparation for the birth of the Savior.” We’ll also be saying, “And if you really feel the need to spend a lot of money, for goodness sake, don’t forget to give some to the church! Or at the very least, remember the homeless and hungry in the process of filling our already over-filled houses with even more things we really don’t need.”

This tension between church and society over this holiday is not new. When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan Party came to power in England in the middle of the 17th century, all Christmas celebrations were outlawed. I also understand that anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit in Boston in the mid-to-late 1600’s was fined! All this came from their Puritan heritage. The motive was good. They wanted the people to remember the entrance of the Savior to the world with reverence and awe. But the means were awful—legislation that tells people they can’t celebrate will never, ever work.

Personally, I think we need to honor both traditions. It’s the church’s job to encourage us to recognize that the world does indeed need a Savior and to use this time to prepare for it. That is why we call this season “Advent.” It simply means “Coming.” The Sent One is soon to arrive. It’s a time to decorate with greens for the evergreen is a sign of life and hope. The wreath that many hang on their doors is the circle that represents the eternality of God. Just as the circle has no beginning or end, in God there is no beginning and no end. The Advent Candles, three violet ones and one rose-colored, will be progressively lit, adding one each Sunday. These remind us that the Light of the World is indeed coming and we need to get ready for that.

But it is also a time set aside to let loose with parties and joy and giving and relaxation and vacations. It’s a time to consider others and fill food pantries and go into a baking frenzy and enjoy multiple sports activities and take a break from work and school. It’s a time to spend money, plan surprises, and express our hope for the future.

So, let the party begin. Shop well, have fun with the preparations, and come to church each week in Advent. Take a couple of hours each Sunday to open your hearts anew to the Savior. Plan on attending a Christmas Eve worship service. Prepare your homes AND prepare your hearts. You can do both and I hope you will.

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