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December 2, 2008

Merry ... Advent?

I have this weird rule for myself. It is one that requires great discipline and mental fortitude. Here it is: I refuse to listen to any Christmas music before Thanksgiving weekend. Okay, this may not seem very ambitious to you, but have you tried doing this in our society? We laud the wonders of the Starbucks gingersnap latte (whatever happened to the gingerbread latte, anyway?) before Election Day has come. And after Halloween, I find it impossible to walk through any department store without being inundated with baubles and festoons of holiday delight. These obstacles make my no pre-yuletide music rule difficult.

Why does our culture feel the need to jump into this season immediately after we finish trick-or-treating? Well, quite truthfully, preparing for Christmas is fun! I love getting swept up in the flurry of preparation. The hustle and bustle of shopping, cooking, eating, and longtime family traditions—in their best moments—make us joyful and nostalgic.

This period of expectancy is exciting for all who celebrate Christmas but especially for us as Christians. We anticipate the delights of Christmas and most importantly await the birth of our Savior, the mystery of the Word made flesh.

As we end the first week of Advent (which began last Sunday), we have begun four weeks of fasting and waiting to prepare for the celebration feast of Jesus' arrival. We join the church across the globe in eager expectation because this season unifies all who submit themselves to waiting for Jesus. It is a time to ponder what the incarnation really means for us: A God so majestic and beyond our scope of understanding humbled himself in the form of a helpless, utterly dependent infant. He came in humanity so we could know his divinity—that we could see him as Savior and Emmanuel—God with us.

Through Advent we also understand—on a very small scale—what the Israelites of Christ's day were feeling. How long had they waited for their Messiah? How long had his coming been foretold and prophesied? They were sick of waiting as they experienced exile and persecution. But still they waited. Why? Because they needed this Savior and they trusted their God would fulfill his promise. Look at this example from the prophet Isaiah:

"Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law." (Isaiah 42:1-4)

This was the Jesus the Jews waited for, and this is the same Savior we wait for today. We anticipate his first coming at Christmas, but Advent is also a reminder of his imminent second coming - when Jesus will fulfill all that has been promised. We have seen a glimpse of the peace and grace Jesus brought, but we wait with the rest of creation for the justice he will one day bring. We live in the tension between these times.

I invite you to take these next few weeks to ponder the mystery of Christmas. Even as you enjoy the holiday activities and parties, keep a still place in your heart to dwell on what Christ's coming means for us. Where do you see injustice and unrest in your life or in our society? How can you invite Jesus to be Emmanuel there? What does his willingness to wrap himself in human frailty teach us about his greatness? How is he speaking to you this season?


You are not weird! I do the same thing. In fact, I tell my husband - NO presents if it happens! All we can control of course is the radio and TV but I try.

But it's only been in the past few years that I've been introduced to the practice of observing Advent and I love it! I love the idea of waiting, purposefully and expectantly, getting my heart ready.

"He came in humanity so we could know his divinity—that we could see him as Savior and Emmanuel—God with us."

I love that. Thank you so much for this, Bonnie!

What a great reminder of His presence at this time of the year. We probably never needed that more than this year. Emmanuel has always been a favoite of mine. GOD WITH US! How can we go wrong if we allow that to sink into our hearts. Thanks for bringing to our attention right now.. Blessings.

I am with you on the music and other early starts to "the season." One result of the extended music season seems to be unending new arrangements of carols that are generally better in their earlier forms. Not to mention new songs that are better not written (though there are many very good ones too).

And I wish I had seen this before I as called on at the last minute to do a devotional for a church meeting. I addressed the same topic but would have loved to have used some of your gems and refocused to the perspective of the long wait for the Jews.

I did learn the source of the 4-week definition of Advent--simply a decision of church leadership (in Rome). I suppose a case could be made for a 9-month celebration of advent...nah, that might lead to overlooking the broader significance.

Thanks for a great reminder of the true spirit of Christmas. You're so right: we need Advent's season of waiting and longing so we can fully appreciate Christmas' wonder and joy. And I also appreciate your reminder that this isn't just a private religious experience between me and Jesus. For the Coming Messiah will "not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth." Thanks for the profound thoughts to ponder here.

I too wait till after Thanksgiving to turn on the Christmas Music. I was so dis-heartened this year to see Christmas decorations go up right after Halloween at the malls. Santa was even out before Thanksgiving!!! Retailers rush Christmas earlier and earlier every year. Nordstroms posted a note at their stores that they were waiting to "deck the halls" til after closing on Thanksgiving eve.
I love Christmas, but I also believe that Thanksgiving is just as important. The Advent season is about rejoicing in the gift God gave us and Thanksgiving is about remembering to thank Him for all that he as given us.
I pray that everyone has a Merry Christmas and is blessed in the upcoming year.

Thank you for this post, Bonnie. I love that many of the traditions of the Christmas season, with the right heart and focus, can be part of the celebration and "period of expectancy" of the birth of Jesus.

This season indeed should be a time when we anticipate his arrival, just like our children long for Christmas day and the gifts they will receive. God met me early this season as I was unpacking my nativity scene and it was in that moment of meditation that I entered the reality of his incarnation in a new way. I blogged the whole story at and would love to read others stories as they meditate on the anticipation of Christ in this holy season of the Christ Mass! Let's share together!

Hey Bonnie,

Ginger BREAD latte is still alive and well in Starbucks in England! Maybe they shipped all their old stock to us when they changed to gingersnap.

I can go one better than you... we don't celebrate Thanksgiving in UK, but my birthday is next week and in our family, it can't be Christmas until it's been my birthday!

In truth, the reality is that in this world season of economic stringency, maybe spending less might lead to more awareness of Who Christmas really is about.

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