Pastor Devin Strong
Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church
What is your favorite Christmas memory? Perhaps there is a particular food that you associate only with the holidays. Maybe you remember cherished meals with your grandparents. Perhaps it’s buying your family Christmas tree or looking at lights that you remember fondly. Most of us have some experience of holidays gone by that we treasure.
Is it any wonder then, that we want to relive those memories as soon as we possibly can?
Sure, retailers want to begin “the holiday shopping season” before the Halloween candy is off the shelves. You can’t blame them. A huge part of their annual revenue comes in the last two months of the year. Many of us are happy to oblige. We have a little longer to dance in nostalgia.
Then along comes the cranky Lutheran pastor (and the clergy of a few other denominations) who insists, “No, no. You can’t start preparing for Christmas until Advent!” Advent means, “Coming.” In the church it is a season of waiting and preparation that begins four Sundays before December 25th. The problem is that Christians are late to the party.
Our culture begins preparing for Christmas at least a month earlier, and we pastors look like party-poopers.
Nobody likes to wait, and we like it less and less these days. It’s why we have Instant Messaging, one-day delivery, and online customer service, because who has time to wait on hold?! The whole idea of a season of waiting seems ridiculous and outdated in our 24/7 world. Why wait when you can skip over Turkey Day all together and put up your Christmas tree and dive into those great memories from yesteryear on November first?
It occurs to me that church and culture may be trying to celebrate two completely different things. Our culture wants to look backward to those Norman Rockwell days. Even if they really weren’t as great as we remember them, in our minds those old Christmases were fantastic. Who can blame us for wanting to recapture some of that, especially when the present day is complicated, messy, and expensive?!
By contrast, the church is calling you and me to look forward to the coming of Jesus.
See, Advent isn’t just about preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth in the manger again. It also asks us to look way forward to the day when Jesus will come in full glory. For believers, the hope of the world is not in the past but in the future. That is a fundamentally different perspective.
Culturally speaking, all waiting is a waste of time. It is the unfortunate delay before getting to the good stuff. In the church, waiting is what we do.
Some biblical writers assumed that Jesus would return in power in their lifetimes. They were wrong, very wrong! We’ve had to come to terms with that. So Christians are both patient and expectant. We are hopeful and excited. In the meantime, you and I do our best to prepare our hearts, our lives, and our world for the Lord, much the way that you would clean house for a guest. But it takes practice to be good at waiting. That’s why we have the season of Advent.
Put up your Christmas lights and bake your cookies whenever you like. But I hope that looking backward is not your only joy this season. I hope that you can also look forward to what God will yet do.
God Love You, and So Do I!