You probably know this already, but just in case you haven’t been paying attention, Christmas is coming.
Or maybe it’s the other way around. In reality, Christmas isn’t traveling toward us at all. It’s just hanging out on the other side of the Winter Solstice, right at the same point in our journey around the sun where it was last year. We, on the other hand, are moving toward it at something like 18 1/2 or 19 miles per second (or about 30 kilometers, if you’re a metric person), which is a pretty brisk pace.
Anyway, whether Christmas is approaching us or we are approaching Christmas probably isn’t something you are worried about — unless, of course, you are a somewhat philosophical individual of advanced age who enjoys dreaming up strange questions, coming up with whimsical answers to them, and trying to fit them into your world view. I am just that sort of person, but I don’t recommend this activity to anybody. I do, however, find engaging in such whimsy is valuable during activities involving monotony and/or discomfort — such as airline flights, certain road trips and poorly played football games. I try not to overdo it, though, because someone near you may conclude that you are some sort of nut, or your wife may ask, “Are you listening to me?” in an irritating tone.
But let’s get back to the subject at hand, which, as I remember, is that we are approaching Christmas. Right now we are smack in the middle of Advent. Advent has been celebrated among Christians for centuries, and was to Christmas what Lent is to Easter — that is, a time of fasting and reflection in preparation for the big event.
Despite that history, though, I don’t ever remember observing Advent as a kid, despite attending services in some Baptist church virtually every Sunday morning, from the time mom left the hospital with the infant me until I acquired a job that involved working many Sunday mornings. It may be that the church I grew up in just observed Advent when I wasn’t paying attention, but I think they didn’t observe it at all.
Mom and Dad always made me sit in front so dad could keep an eye on me from the choir, and I’m sure I would have noticed them lighting candles about 10 feet (3.48 meters) away from my front row seat at least once during those years. Not only that, but I’m pretty sure that at some point it would be my family’s turn to light the candle, and being the oldest (except for mom and dad, of course) I would no doubt have been the guy who actually lit the candle — at least after I learned how to use matches safely as a Cub Scout.
As a result of that history, I arrived at the University of Wyoming wholly uninformed about Advent. Fortunately, I was right at home in the Baptist church I had last attended in 1949, where a few members actually had known me back then, when I was much cuter than I am now. When December rolled around, the morning service opened with the lighting of a candle and a few appropriate words. Since then, every church I have attended has done the same.
A few years later, Advent became more of a daily thing when my wife introduced Advent calendars for our kids that reminded us every day just what it was we were preparing for during December.
I suppose some of you are wondering what the point of this verbal rambling is. Well, the Christmas season is a stressful time for many people, and it’s no wonder. Shopping for gifts, attending school programs, baking the usual variety of Christmas cookies, helping with church programs, and attending parties thrown by your employer or your friends are time-consuming and often exhausting. Throw in a little irritation at having to listen to “The 12 Days of Christmas” in every store you enter, preparing to head over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house or packing for the trip to Disneyland you are giving your kids, and it’s pretty easy to forget the meaning of the season, let alone its spirit.
When that happens, it’s a great time to stop for a few minutes and reflect on the promise Jesus brings and prepare to receive it again. Doing that four or five times during the day can go a long way toward relieving any stress you are feeling.
Now, I know Advent is a Christian thing, but that doesn’t mean people of other faiths can’t use the season as well, since you are subject to stress as much as Christians. After all, you have to put up with the same crowds and traffic while you’re shopping, and I’m sure you want peace and goodwill among men just as much as Christian believers do. Then there’s the ancient promise of the Winter Solstice, when the sun begins to stay up longer, bringing more light to the world.
Either way, the Advent season symbolizes hope, and that’s worth celebrating.