Don't wish anyone a "Merry Christmas" yet. It isn't Christmas. You'd be more accurate to offer a "Happy New Year!" than a "Merry Christmas." You might get weird looks, but you could smile inwardly and have a deep sense of self-satisfaction, knowing you are liturgically correct. And who doesn't want to be liturgically correct?
We are in the season of Advent or Adventus, 'The Coming.' It is actually the beginning of the Church calendar and the start of a new year. It may seem weird, but it isn't merely pre-Christmas. During this season, we also await the second coming of Christ. We look forward to a time when the long-awaited promised return of Jesus will happen. This is much the same way people looked forward to the long-awaited Messiah to appear. We, like them, are in a liminal space, an in-between time, neither entirely one place or another. God has promised something, and we are experiencing it in part and not yet.
In longing for Christ's first appearing, people waited for hundreds of years as well. Isaiah prophesied that One would come to restore the land and the fortunes of His people. They waited in exile. They waited in war. They waited as they quit following the Covenant and suffered humiliation. There was little to no vestiges left during the period of silence between Malachi and Mark.
In our space, we watch as Western Culture removes any vestiges of Christianity from the Holiday Season. Christianity is on the ropes. We can't even say, "Merry Christmas!" During this time, people, even Christians, replace the name of Christ for and 'X.' Prayer is out of the public sphere, and Starbucks cups are holiday neutral. Wars continue, refugees increase, fear is on the rise, and we can't seem to have honest dialog anymore.
Things are bad, and they don't seem to be getting better.
How can we celebrate Christmas when this is our experience? I would suggest we press into Advent. How do we do this?
Isaiah 9 tells of a people who longed for deliverance. We quote this passage each Christmas.
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9.2-7)
We read this passage because, as Christians, we believe that Jesus is who Isaiah was talking about. We believe God has acted on our behalf, and He will do so again. Pressing into Advent looks like living as people who have found a way in the dark. A ray of hope in despair. Salvation when all is lost. Advent means the sincere faith of people who point to the hope they've found. Jesus lived. Jesus died. Jesus rose again. Jesus will come again.
It is time the Church in the West started living like it.
Instead of wringing our hands with every perceived slight our culture gives us, why don't we point the One who saves? Our culture needs hope, and God has made the Church is the light of the world. We can't afford to be worried about leaving Jesus out of Christmas when Christians leave Jesus out of their lives. Keeping Christ in Christmas isn't a matter of 'X' vs. Christ. It is a matter of Christians living for Him, not embracing our cultural norms of division, fear, war, and avarice. Instead of worrying about Starbucks being holiday neutral, why not live in such a way that people ask us questions about the hope we have? (See I Peter 3.13-17) The best way to prepare the way for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is to act like He is those things for us.
Wait in expectation and anticipation. Love like it matters. Wish people "Happy Holidays!" not because it denies Jesus, but because you know it comes from Holy Days, and you are slyly liturgically correct again. So, "Happy New Year!" Here is to another year of Christ's Lordship in and through us as we wait and reveal the Hope the world needs. May a weary world truly rejoice!