‘Tis the season to… [fill in the blank]. In a typical year, this season would be full of activities. As we’ve all said many times, this is not a normal year. Still, this is the time when we prepare our hearts for Christmas and remember Jesus’ birth. We do this not because we do not know the details of the Christmas story. We celebrate Christmas each year because Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith. His birth marks God incarnate entering the world. We can then look to Jesus’ life as a model for our lives. Lent, Holy Week, and Easter fills in the story.
There are other concurrent celebrations around this time of year too. There are Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Chinese New Year, and more. There is the secularization of Christmas (Santa, Frosty, etc.). In other years, we would have office Christmas or Holiday parties. This year, we gather on Zoom. In other years, friends gather for parties and families travel to see loved ones. Even this year, students (and teachers!) get a break from school. Celebrations can take all our attention.
Recently I heard a news story about how to avoid overspending during the holiday season. As I listened, I pictured the poor, teenaged, single pregnant girl Mary. Over the centuries, our idea of Mary evolved. Hardly a Dutch or Renaissance master has not painted a gorgeous depiction of Mary. We have come a long way since those humble days in Bethlehem. Sometimes, it seems like we have lost sight of the humble start of Jesus’ story.
For Christians, Advent and Christmas are about Jesus as the foundation of our faith. Mary’s story can serve to remind us that our faith is not glitz and glitter. This is a good reminder in a year when we cannot gather to celebrate the season. It’s not about overspending or indulgence. Thinking about Mary reminds me about the simplicity of our faith. It is about following Christ, making him first in our lives. It is about listening to the Holy Spirit.
Advent is the season of preparation and expectation. Think about other years when you planned to travel or host a party. Much attention revolved around getting ready. Does the typical Advent make us miss the humility of Christ coming into this world?
In the Gospels, we find Jesus participating in celebrations. In fact, in John, Jesus’ first public miracle was at the wedding at Cana, when he turned the water into wine. Celebrating is not wrong. Jesus modeled this behavior, but as we celebrate in our COVID-bubbles, let us be mindful of the reason.
We can give a greater treasure by caring about another person than by overspending. We can spread God’s love by calling someone and hearing what that person says. Jesus calls us to love one another as he loved us.
Feasts and celebrations do not need to be lavish and extravagant. They can be simple. They can be God’s people connecting with one another and living out the words of 1 John 4:16b, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”