This week is the first Sunday of Advent. It seems like we just packed away the Christmas stuff and now we have to bring it all out again. (I realize this doesn’t apply to everyone. Some folks start celebrating the Christmas season right around Halloween. But in my family, we’re traditionalists. We don’t go bonkers for Christmas until the proper time: thirty seconds after the conclusion of Thanksgiving dinner.)
The gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent is a very short passage from Mark. Jesus gave a warning about the end times when He would return to judge the world. He said, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come….What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
Advent is a time of watching and waiting. It is a four-week period of preparation for the coming of the Lord.
Nowadays, it takes an especially keen eye to see the Lord anywhere among the avalanche of secular Christmas glitz. We can easily find ourselves overwhelmed by trees and lights and holly and mistletoe and parties and presents and shopping and over-eating and on and on and on. We can hop aboard the non-stop, six-week, Ho-ho-ho express and never once give a fleeting thought to the One for whom the Christmas season was originally intended. (I’ll give you a hint: His name is not Santa.)
You can watch hundreds of hours of Christmas specials on TV and never once hear even an oblique reference to Jesus. Virtually all of the “holiday programming” steers quite clear of the religious origin of Christmas.
Let’s face it, Jesus Christ is persona non grata in our present culture. Despite the fact three out of four American citizens describe themselves as Christian, there is a small but powerful segment of society passionately working overtime to rid the public square of any religious influence.
The level of animosity reaches its zenith during the Christmas season—“Christmas season,” by the way, being a phrase that is banned by many schools and municipal operations. I’m still at a loss to figure out how the First Amendment clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” can be invoked when a sixth grade chorus sings “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Is a sixth grade chorus the same as the U.S. Congress? (No, of course not. The sixth graders are more mature.) Is singing a Christmas carol the same as passing federal legislation? I really don’t get it.
On the other hand, I can find nowhere in the Constitution the clause, “All citizens have the right never to be offended.” If someone is truly offended by a rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” why doesn’t he or she just skip this year’s Christmas concert? (Oops, I mean, “Winter Concert.”)
Anyway, Advent is a time when we should be “watching” for the coming of the Lord, waiting in anticipation for His arrival. But if you spend this December watching for Jesus is all the usual places—shopping malls, office parties, in front of the TV—you are not very likely to spot Him.
I’m afraid you’re going to have to work at it if you want to see Jesus this season. Skip a Sunday shopping excursion and instead go to church. Turn off the TV and read the Nativity verses in the Bible. Spend a little less time (not to mention effort and money) decorating your house to look like a Las Vegas casino and instead sit down with your kids and pray for God’s peace and love to fill your family and friends. Try to remember, for a change, that Jesus is truly the reason for the season.