To say the celebration of Christmas has become part of a secularized marketing juggernaut should not surprise anyone. From the middle of October through the end of the year, people are subjected to an increased and intense campaign to spend money. Our secular culture is an economic one, and consumer spending is the largest piece of the economic engine that drives it.
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In such a setting the pressure on us to spend our money is almost constant. Marketing and advertising are simply the means used to overwhelm consumers and entice them to buy. The message is designed to create a sense of need or desire through the marketing. And then to repeat that message as often as possible to once again persuade us to act.
People of the Christian faith in all its forms and representations often find it difficult to push back against this forceful onslaught to get at the spiritual aura which characterizes the ancient practice of remembering the Coming of the Savior, the Incarnation. The effort required to ponder the miracle of God coming among us in the flesh – to contemplate a message of peace and hope for living which does not depend on a robust economy – is overrun with the noise, pace and pressure of our secular celebration.
Phrases like “Let’s put Christ back in Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season” are probably well intended, but nonetheless insufficient to enable one to actually cut through the noise and find a sense of meaningful spiritual movement in their heart.
Advent, and the intentional effort to participate in some sort of advent practice, is a way to help one develop or experience more focus on the core meaning of the Christmas celebration. Advent has no commercial value, no marketing value. Advent cuts across the noise and rush and provides a guide to ponder and contemplate aspects of the spiritual life in relation to the Savior, the Trinity, the good news, the hope of eternal life, the mystery of Christ.
In general the four Sundays prior to Christmas represent the advent season. There are many small advent guides that offer thoughts for every day during that time, while some materials are oriented around just the four Sundays. The particular materials hardly matter. It is the practice that is important. Deciding to do something, and then setting out to actually do it – that is what matters.
In my judgment, the most important step to consider is to set aside time for the practice. Wedging the advent reading for the day into a two minute time slot in the midst of routine chaos (or in the case of the Christmas season, increased chaos) will probably not accomplish much. The whole point behind any practice of the spiritual life is to begin to believe in a value structure which releases control of our lives over to the one we call our Father, our Savior, our King. We cannot do that if we refuse to stop long enough for something to sink in, to actually get to the level of our heart.
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Will we ever really consider whether or not we believe in the power and promises of our heavenly Father for our life here on earth if we aren’t willing to actually sit still and ponder those very words, promises, instructions? Participating in an advent practice is one way to settle our hearts and consider a deeper meaning. Practicing advent during the whole season produces a heightened anticipation as we wait for the day of the celebration itself, and as we consider how we wait for the actual promised return of our King and Savior.
There are plenty of advent materials available. Ones I have used include:
Preparing for Christmas, Richard Rohr
Watch for the Light, Readings for Advent and Christmas
God is in the Manger, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Advent and Christmas Wisdom, Henri Nouwen
All of these books are available at Amazon.
For a selection of advent guides which focus on the 4 Sundays of advent you can go to UrbanSkye.org and review 7 guides which are available for sale. I recommend 2 in particular – Thin Places and The Third Way