A Countercultural Christmas
by Sarah Phillips
"Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh."
The first purple Advent candle will be lit today. The once dark wreath now shines unevenly with one solitary light.
Advent is one of my favorite seasons in the Christian year. It's a special time where we reflect on the darkness and trials of this world in the light of our hope in Christ. We remember how, after centuries of waiting on the part of the faithful, God bridged the chasm between humanity and divinity through the humble birth of Jesus.
I've always loved Advent for its joyful anticipation of the Christ-child, but I also love it because it's a bit countercultural. Its sparse purple and pink decorations stand in stark contrast to the glitz the rest of our culture displays often weeks before Thanksgiving arrives. You see, Advent was not designed as a simple memorial of a past event, to bring us up to Christmas day and leave us there. Its purpose is to point the faithful towards a future event - Christ's second, glorious coming. This is why churches that celebrate this liturgical season read about the Lord's coming in both the Old and New Testament throughout the month of December.
The dramatic imagery found in these readings is far removed from the quaint Christmas decorations that currently surround us. They have a jolting effect as they remind us that our lives now should be lived in light of eternity, not in keeping with the current standards.
In this first Advent reading, Paul's words to the faithful carry a tone of urgency. He uses the image of awakening from a deep sleep. But notice he is not shaking his brothers and sisters out of their sleep at sunrise, but while "the night is advanced." In other words, it's not enough to simply wait for Christ to show up, but we must prepare beforehand. We need to seek God's grace now to help us eliminate sin from our lives
This is where the hard work of Advent comes in. This joyful season requires an examination of conscience. It's a time to reflect on the areas where we lack or on the recurrent sins in our lives, and to seek God's grace to help us to change.
Perhaps this seems like a real downer of an activity during the most wonderful time of the year. But let me share with you why, for me, it's never really been a downer. Have you ever failed to prepare for a big event (or had nightmares that you did?). Have you ever found yourself awake at night, panicking because you're envisioning yourself without a dress on your wedding day or lacking your PowerPoint slides for an important presentation? Needless to say, the joy and success of these events would seriously be compromised should these nightmares come true.
Surely, all good things in life require preparation. And God, in His mercy, has given us the gift of time to prepare for His arrival, which no doubt, will be the most important event we ever experience.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Take time this week to reflect on the joy of Jesus' first arrival and then, confident in His love for you, ask God to reveal to you the ways in which you need to prepare your heart to meet Him on Christmas Day.