By MATT SEDDON
Buy! Buy! Buy! Cook! Cook! Cook! Decorate! Decorate! Decorate!
These are the messages bombarding us right now from every direction. They make us feel even more frantic and crazy than we already do. We are in conflict-ridden and difficult times, and in the midst of all the distressing messages from the news media and our social media feeds, the stress of the Christmas Season is now heaped upon us.
Except it isn’t the Christmas Season. It’s Advent.
Advent is one of the seasons of the Christian year. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The official “Christmas Season” in the church begins on Dec. 25 and lasts 12 days, until the Epiphany on Jan.6 (just sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in your head to remember). This year, Advent happens to begin on Sunday, Dec. 1. For Christians, this is the beginning of the year, not Jan. 1.
I love how the Christian year is tied to the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, rather than the secular calendar year, which, if anything, is only tied to making money. It gives us an opportunity to live a little differently. It gives us an opportunity to focus our lives outward. And it can give us a little peace in a stressful time.
As near as we can tell, the very first Christians did not celebrate Christmas. For them, the major holiday was Easter, the resurrection of Jesus. The season of Lent developed as a time before Easter to prepare for baptism, which originally only happened on Easter. But, over time, certainly by the fifth century AD, Christians began to celebrate Jesus’s birth, perhaps picking the day (Dec. 25) to provide an alternative to other pagan festivals that happened at that time of the year.
Once Christmas became commonly celebrated, it also became a time for baptisms. So, the season of Advent developed as a sort of mini-Lent, a time for reflection and prayer in preparation for baptism.
Advent, therefore, is a time of hopeful and prayerful preparation and waiting. It is a time to reflect on the wondrous miracle that God would come to be with us, as a human baby just like us, because God’s love was greater than our own failings. It is a time to slow down a bit and think of the bigger picture and work on developing hope in your heart and in your actions.
I admit this can be hard to do in our contemporary culture. Christians have used a number of prayer practices and resources over the centuries to help slow down and be a little quieter. These include the use of an Advent wreath or a Jesse Tree. Going to church each Sunday is a good idea. In my church, I’ve changed our music and worship practices slightly to allow people time for quiet contemplation in a busy world.
Even if you aren’t a Christian or churchgoer, you could try adapting whatever practice helps you to slow down and be more contemplative. I can think of yoga, meditation, reading inspirational poetry or books, spending time intentionally with your loved ones, listening to music. Advent as a time to resist the noisy demands of our culture — trying to regain peace and hope is for everyone!
These are trying times. And culture’s message to buy, cook, decorate, consume and be stressed doesn’t and won’t help us find peace. True peace is found within, through practices that feed our spirit and restore our hope. Think of Advent as a time to resist the destructive messages of our culture and cultivate practices that restore hope.
For me, as a Christian, our hope is well founded. God has never abandoned us in trying times. God has loved the world so much that God would join the world in the most vulnerable and humble way, as a human baby. We need this hope in a conflict-ridden world. And so, I invite you to cultivate hope this Advent season!
Matt Seddon is an Anglican priest and rector of Christ Church Parish in Mexico City. This Advent, Christ Church has services each Sunday in English at 10:30 a.m. and Spanish at 12:30 p.m. Christmas services this year are on Dec. 24 at 12 noon in Spanish and 5 p.m. in English, and on Dec. 25 at 12 noon.