Confession: I am a Christmas music junky. Halfway through November, I begin to patiently wait for Black Friday when it becomes socially acceptable to blare the season’s tunes ad nauseam for a month, including the occasional Hanukah jam (shout out to those Maccabees). I really love Christmas music, whether it be cheesy crooner songs about being snowed in with a lovely companion, or the richer, more vibrant hymns, like “O Holy Night.” If there is one thing that causes me to stumble through contemplating the sober Advent season, it is all that cheery Christmas music.
So imagine my disappointment as I climbed into my truck to leave my in-laws’ house at 10:34pm on Christmas Day: I turned on what had been my Christmas radio station for over thirty days, only to hear a late 80’s pop song that wasn’t WHAM!’s “Last Christmas.” That’s right, folks. December 25 wasn’t even officially over and the radio had moved on to its normal programming. How quickly we rush past Christmas…
It is almost as if the Advent season acts as four weeks of pent-up, Yuletide foreplay in which we try to open presents early (but not too early!) because we just can’t wait for Christmas morning! Then comes the climax of Christmas morning and with a flurry of wrapping paper and spilt coffee, it is all over and all we want to do is go to sleep. As my dear Grammy used to say every December 25 around 7:30am, “You wait this long, and it’s all over in 20 minutes.”
Our one night stand with Christmas is sad. For those churches in the Christian tradition that abide by the Western liturgical Church calendar, there are 12 Days of Christmas (go on, sing it to yourself). Christmas morning is only the beginning of a longer celebration. After all, if we’ve spent Advent waiting in contemplation and anticipation, why burn up all of Christmas in a half hour?
Not only does the Christian Tradition celebrate Christmas for twelve days, but Advent marks the beginning to the Church calendar. That’s right–Christian New Year begins with contemplation and longing for four weeks. Yet Christmas marks the end of that anticipation and the new beginning of God’s indwelling in Creation, physically present in the Cosmos in the person of Jesus Christ!
Christmas isn’t a one night stand with prolonged waiting and climactic release. Christmas is the beginning of a year long love affair with the Divine! And that love affair brings with it the stillness of Lent, the pain of Good Friday, the joy of life and reunion at Easter, and the invigoration and passion of Pentecost! The incredible beauty of the Church calendar is that it encompasses the rhythms of our relationship with God. Not only that, the rhythm is a seasonal glimmer and reminder of all the redemptive work that is soaking and permeating all of Creation, from planet Earth to the farthest unknown reaches of the universe and beyond.
Yet if this rhythm is a reminder of God’s redemptive work in history, why do we experience or witness so much pain, suffering, grief, and horror? Is this rhythm detached from the way the world is? Is God good or is the rhythm a lie?
For those of us of the Christian faith, I think the Church calendar from Advent through the Ordinary Time is structured to remind that God is good, and that God is at work. It isn’t there for us to evaluate if God is fulfilling His promise, but to prompt us to return to the movements of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that occur in spite of the trials and tribulations of our lives and times.
Maybe Advent introduces us to these essences over four weeks not because Christmas means the end of anticipation. Maybe Advent walks us through Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love because Advent is a summation of the rhythm that we move to, well beyond the season of Christmas. It is a prologue for the whole of the Western Church calendar!
Christmas is only the start of our journey with Christ. Nurture the Divine love affair.