The Obstacles of Advent
How is your church combating the busyness and materialism of the season?

Last week my wife and I got all of our Christmas shopping done - in one day. This blitzkrieg approach has become a tradition for us. It's like pulling a tooth; better to have the whole thing out at once. In the evening we treated ourselves to a victory dinner at a restaurant. While savoring my accomplishment and my meal, I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas on the television above the bar. Ah, Christmas in America - spend all day battling the crowds at the mall and have Luke chapter 2 recited to you by a cartoon character at night.

Many have lamented the way our culture has "taken Christ out of Christmas," and in recent years we've heard conservative pundits freak out when retailers wish customers a "Happy Holiday" rather than "Merry Christmas." But even for those of us in the church, aware of the season's spiritual significance, and determined to celebrate the advent of the Messiah, this month still poses many challenges. Let's face it, focusing on God in our society is always difficult and the added stress of the holidays only makes things harder.

Four years ago we decided to shift the way our church engaged Advent. We came to see that December posed unique challenges for our people, and if these obstacles were left unchecked they would significantly interrupt our mission to be formed into the image of Christ. For this reason our church is taking some intentional steps to help people commune with God this Christmas in a counter-cultural way.

The first obstacle we identified was busyness. Ask anyone in my church, on any day, what keeps them from communing with God and chances are they'll say busyness. But during December it really gets out of control. Beyond ordinary obligations schedules also fill up with numerous parties, school holiday programs, shopping excursions, vacations, and family gatherings with Cousin Eddie. During a season when we are supposed to slow down and commune deeply with Christ and family we can hardly find time to breathe.

We decided the church should combat this tendency rather than contribute to it. So, instead of adding programs and activities during December we've actually reduced them. For example, we've stayed away from large Christmas productions for children or adults. These events, while beautiful and worshipful, often take weeks of preparation that fill up the calendar with practices which separate families. We also suspend most adult and children's classes on Sunday so families can worship together, and we provide at-home Advent family devotionals and encourage heads of households to gather their clan weekly.

December 03, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 10 comments

Mike

December 27, 2007  10:36pm

I read this too late this year (today being the 2nd day AFTER Christmas), but it resonates with the sermon at Midnight Christmas Mass. The pastor in that 50-person Episcopal congregation reminded me that the purpose of Advent is to make room for the Savior, to create space for a fresh incarnation of "God with us." We are to minimize the materialism, slow the schedule to make time for Christ, and celebrate the coming with great joy. This year, I failed miserably, but perhaps only so I would remember so vividly in the future.

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John

December 10, 2007  11:59pm

We're, for the first time, including kids and families in our corporate worship experience for a candle-lighting ceremony and activities they can take home and work with throughout the week. http://www.sequoyahcommunitychurch.org

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Barry

December 05, 2007  10:39am

Thought provoking article, thanks. Here is a 'Thought' on the whole Christmas theme from our church's 'Thought for the Month' series - http://www.grovebaptist.co.uk/thought/xmas07.htm

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Barry

December 05, 2007  8:23am

Liked the article, thought provoking. I have posted a link which is our church's 'Thought' on the Christmas season .. http://www.grovebaptist.co.uk/thought/xmas07.htm

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jan Dykgraaff

December 04, 2007  8:47pm

IT SOUNDS SENSIBLE, GETTING THE GOD OF COMMERCE OUT OF THE COMMEMORATION OF THE SAVIOUR. EVEN CHRISTMAS CARDS ARE OVERDONE; IN THE CHURCH I DON'T THINK ITS NECESSARY TO GIVE CARDS ! WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON EACH WEEK. THINGS SEEM TO HYPE UP IN THE WORLD, BUY PRESENTS TO CELEBRATE GOD'S GIFT TOO WONDERFUL FOR WORDS ? HELLOOO...JOYFUL SERVICE IS DONE IN THE NAME OF THE SAVIOUR, GO& TELL OTHERS, LIKE THE SHEPHERDS.!!!!

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David

December 03, 2007  12:41pm

Purchasing a Christmas tree was what started my Advent season. Typically, the day after Thanksgiving, our family would bundle up and head toward the Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. With great excitement, we trimmed the tree and it was displayed prominently in our house. The overpowering smell of a newly cut tree announced the beginning of Christmas. But not anymore. Our Christmas tree farm sold out to developers and last year, we purchased a tree at the corner. What a disappointment!! Expensive, excessive shedding of needles and no smell. This Christmas, we grudgingly purchased an artificial Christmas tree. It looks very much like a tree. It's easy to put together. Then, it struck me. Does having an artificial tree mean we will have an artifical Christmas? So many times, our culture places an emphasis on an artificial Christmas – shopping, presents, Santa Claus, reindeer – that it distracts us from what is real about Christmas – Jesus, a Promise kept, born in a humble manger. By purchasing an artificial Christmas tree, I am more resoloved and determined to not have an artificial Christmas. Not to be distracted by the busyness of the season, but be pro-active in spending time to truly welcome the birth of our Savior. Thanks for your comments in this respect.

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Alan

December 03, 2007  11:32am

Wrote about this issue about a year ago. (At least, about the neeed to not be too quick to rush through Advent.) If you click on my name, and scroll down the table to the article from December 2006, "The Story Behind the Christmas Story," you can see the full article. I put a couple excerpts below ... As we approach Christmas, we pass through the season of Advent in our churches liturgical calendar. We set aside the four Sundays leading up to Christmas to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ into our world and into our lives. We could almost miss it in the mad dash to Christmas. If we only show up to church on Christmas Eve, we likely will miss it completely. But if we wish to recover the trail of the elusive story behind the Christmas story, we would do well to linger over Advent and appreciate its significance. As we do, we might begin to see the Christmas story in a whole new light. ***** The season of Advent creates space in our lives to reflect on the story behind the Christmas story in the days leading up to Christmas. Advent reminds us that the coming of Christ is much about much more than a cute baby in a manger surrounded by shepherds and angels. God sends his one and only Son into the world to live among us, and ultimately give his life for us so that we can be set free to live the life we were created to live. The people gathered around baby Jesus that night long ago may not have realized it, but God had the whole story—beginning, middle, and end—in mind from the very beginning. It is only as we begin to understand the Christmas story in the full context of the Christian story that the true significance of Jesus' birth becomes clear. Until then, we're left with a story that makes us feel good on Christmas Eve but does not have the ability to produce lasting change in our lives.

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Hank Harwell

December 03, 2007  11:23am

While our church has not fully embraced it at this point, I find the Advent Conspiracy to be great fodder for thought and discussion. In fact, it sounds very much like what you've described above.

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Kevin Derr

December 03, 2007  10:50am

I really find myself resonating with what you are working with here. We've not been as intentional as your church has in dealing with the stress of the Advent and Christmas season, but we have simplified our own activities. I really liked the focus on spending less, being more intentional about missions and freeing up time for people to be in communion with the Lord. Thanks Kevin

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David

December 03, 2007  9:56am

Though provoking stuff Skye. Thanks. Our church has invited folks to give time and resources in practical and sacrificial ways the past couple of Advent seasons. While the stated purpose is to demonstrate love and mercy to our communities, a side benefit has been a re-orientation of our priorities.

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