For centuries in the Roman/Western religious tradition, Advent, the four-week liturgical season before Christmas, was considered penitential. Reminding people that they were born broken and could only be saved by the Church and its priests kept the coffers full.
Our Reform Christian ancestors, threw off this idea of salvation by proxy, had to reimagine how Jesus might “save.” The Puritans, part of our own Reform/ Congregationalist religious heritage, even went so far as to outlaw the celebration of Christmas entirely, finding no warrant for it in scripture. They only saw an excuse for excess and debauchery.
These days, Christmas is consumerism and Charlie Brown, Die Hard and family gatherings, traditions we have inherited and traditions we have created. Advent in Black Friday and Cyber Monday and that staff party that may or may not happen this year. The world is truly weird sometimes.
Of course, it makes sense that our Christmas traditions should be made up. The Nativity Story itself, the one we tell in pageants and animated specials, is “made up.” The two narratives, in Matthew and Luke, are incompatible, and we know some of the history and geography is fiction. For some reason, the “Slaughter of the Innocents” never quite makes it into the pageant.
The early Christians were trying to make meaning out of an event that changed their world, their experience of the holy in the person of Jesus and the community he left behind when he was murdered in a conspiracy of religion and the state. We are just as busy making meaning in our time and place, weaving together ancient stories and powerful love.
In the coming weeks, we will focus on anticipation and preparation (blue) rather than penance (purple). We'll draw on ancient scripture and contemporary sources as we focus on the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. And on Christmas Eve, we will draw ever closer to that moment when we announce the birth and the bells ring out, for God Is With Us.
And as Kevin McCallister might have said, “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals!”
Blessings and Peace, Gary