The Holiday Season

The Holiday Season

When the card says, "Season's Greetings,"  it never specifies which season.  But you know there's only one it could mean.  It's the season the media call the "holiday" season. The church has another name for it.  You might think it's the Christmas season, but it's not.  The season is Advent.

The holiday season runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  It roughly corresponds to Advent.  The difference is Christmas.  It ends the holiday season in the world but begins the Christmas season in the church.  When the holiday decorations at the mall come down, we're just putting ours up.

What characterizes the holiday season  The first snowfall.  Crowds of shoppers.  Lines of traffic.  Familiar music.  Parties.

There are three ways to tell the holidays are here.
1)  It's colder.  Sweaters come out of the closet.  Boots on your feet.  You have more pockets to carry things in.  It's darker, too.  You use up more light bulbs.  You light the fireplace.
2)  Crowds are thicker.  Shoppers are everywhere --in the stores, in the aisles, in their cars, or looking for their cars.  Driving is more dangerous.  Roads are bad and traffic is dense.
3)  People act funny.  They give away gifts.  They invite the family over.  They keep secrets from children.  They feel terribly responsible for this season.

The media call it the holiday season.  We call it Advent.

Advent prepares us for Christmas -- for this year's Christmas, not the Christmas of the year 0.  Advent prepares us to meet Christ in our lives today.  It prepares us to meet a God who became human.  A God who embraces shopping malls, cold weather, Santa Claus, and turkey dinners.  God became human so we could recognize God wherever we bump into people.  Advent prepares us to meet God wherever we meet humans.

Reclaiming Advent

The holiday season itself can help us celebrate Advent and prepare for Christmas.  Sometimes we find it a distraction.  The meaning of Christmas can get lost with all the shopping to do, the cards to write, and the parties to plan.  Cold weather makes it hard to pray.  Distractions fill the world around us.  But it is to the world that Jesus came, and it is through the world we can prepare to celebrate his birth.

The three characteristics of the holiday season can help us celebrate Advent in three ways.

1)  Feel the cold.  The weather is unpleasant.  The chill north wind reminds us how fragile our bodies are.  We cannot long endure being outdoors.  We dress warmer, we drink hot chocolate, we eat steaming soups.

The cold air reminds us of our human weakness.  When we think we are strong, when we think we are powerful, when we think we are proud, nature reminds us we are not.  Nature reminds us we need a redeemer.

When you feel the cold air, you can thank God for the coming of Christ, whose death triumphed over human weakness.  When you pull on a sweater, you can thank God for the coming of Christ whose loving embrace will cover your sins, fortify your weakness, and lead you warmly to your eternal home.

The world is not only colder, it's also darker.  Longer nights foretell the arrival of winter's fury.
But in the weeks before Christmas, lights begin to appear.  You and your neighbors, homes and businesses will string lights outside to fight the dark.  As Christmas draws closer the lights become more numerous and colorful.  As you watch them grow, you can thank God for the coming of Christ, the Light who shattered the darkness of sin, and showed us the way to life.

Your Christmas tree will symbolize the power of God over the forces of darkness.  When cold weather drives you indoors, take a tree with you to enjoy the beauty of nature.  When the darkness frightens you, light the tree to herald the birth of the Sun of God.

2)  Pity the crowds.  Even a simple trip to the store can try one's patience.  Parking is scarce, lines are long, and tempers are short.

When you see the crowds, you will see some of the many people Christ came to save.  He came because he loved them all.  If the crowds make you tense, remember that you have come to this place because of this season.  You came as  an act of love for a friend, or a moment of preparation for a later celebration.

Traffic can be frightening.  And yet all of us in our cars and buses -- we all left our homes as a sacrifice for those we love.  And we all long to return home again, away from the conflict and isolation of the streets. 
You might remember that we spend our lives in isolation from the fullness of God's  reign, and the coming of Christ at Christmas will break through our loneliness once again.

3)  Go ahead and act funny.  Giving gifts and preparing for parties are ways that people act out the terrible responsibility for Christmas.  Enjoy the parties, and become aware of the tension.

Christmas burdens us with the making of good memories.  We want the perfect party, the best gift, the most joyful spirits, the cheeriest carols, and the warmest memories from them all.  If a child cries, if adults argue, or if you spill the gravy, you may feel like you've violated something precious.  Christmas is tense because our expectations are high.  And our tension is bound to cause holiday stress.

The holidays are awe-full.  They are a time when we realize anew how much God did for us, and we open our eyes to how much we can do for others.  The season fills us with expectation, with awe, with the will to do good.
If you find yourself burdened by the wonderment of it all, try to relax and enjoy the season.  Remember it is not you who will make Christmas, it is Christ who makes Christmas, and he's already done so in his incarnation.  Meditate on how God loves you.  Jesus took on flesh.  He wanted to be just like you.  Let his love fill you.  Then spread cheer.  Enjoy the feast, and let the spirit of Christmas that dwells within you guide your days.

The Advent Season

 Advent season in the church is part of the holiday season.  Even as the world around us brings on the winter festival, so our church at the corner prepares us for the Christmas festival:

The Holiday season comes during cold weather, when we realize how fragile we   are.  It happens on a grand scale to crowds of people everywhere.  It fills us with a spirit of goodwill.

In church, we hear the great prophecies telling those who are fragile that their exile is near an end -- a Savior will come!  We gather in ever larger groups to walk the Lord's mountain together.  We celebrate our spirit in song, scripture, and sacrament.  For Christ will come here this Christmas and renew our flagging spirits with life.

Advent is the holiday season of hope.  With the world around us we await the coming of one, who will save us from our struggles and bring us to a new home.  In cold, crowded, spirit-filled churches, we await the one whom we have already met - in church, on the streets, and in our homes.

Jesus, who loved us enough to live like us, waits too.  He waits for us to live like him.  He waits for us to bring the gospel to a fearful world, barely brave enough to send a preprinted message saying, "Season's Greetings."

                                            Reflection Starters
Feel the cold of the season, either by going for a walk, imagining yourself out in it, or recalling a time when you were really cold?
What does this tell you about yourself?  What does it tell you about the Advent season?

2)  Place yourself among the crowds of the season by going out shopping, imagining yourself doing so, or recalling a time when you especially remember Christmas shoppers.  How do you feel about what you're doing, about your relationship with the crowds around you?

3)  Advent is the season of hope, Father Turner says.  What is your hope this year?

4)  Suggested activity:  Make a Christmas card for a person who is special in your life offering your "season's greetings."

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