Jesus, Buddy the elf, and the reindeer that ran over grandma

I enjoy hot cocoa, chocolate covered peanut butter snacks, sausage balls, and homemade Christmas cookies. I enjoy the lights and I also enjoy looking for the tackiest as well as the most beautiful. I love sneak Santa games and real presents.

I love seeing my kids get excited and seeing the joy on their faces. I love caroling.

I love singing those songs on a cold winter night. I enjoy Christmas plays and concerts. I love the Christmas cards we get in the mail. I love the religious songs best but I have to admit a private smile when “Grandma got Run Over by a Reindeer” comes on the radio.  I know the words.  I confess. I also love the movies.  My first favorite was “A Christmas Story” (You will shoot your eye out!)  But then “Christmas Vacation’ took its place (the horrible relatives and the flying squirrel in the Christmas tree), and then that got knocked off for the annual showing (or several showings) of “Elf” (the four major food groups- candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup).

I love it all. I embrace it and the season in its deep religious meaning moves me but I also enjoy all the pop culture rhythms and the whole thing.  Give me Santa, Frosty, Will Ferrell, and all the rest.  Even running across “Die Hard” on USA makes me think of the holidays.

But I know that if we are only entertained then the season is a flop.  That’s why I absolutely love Advent.

Growing up I did not know Advent existed.  Our Baptist church sang more carols in December, had a play, party, visit from Santa and a big service before Christmas but we didn’t do the Advent wreath or pay attention to that at all.

I went to seminary and discovered the power of Advent and every church I have served has participated in Advent.  And as I said I love it.

Having the time to build momentum and reflect and travel to the major Christmas celebration is powerful. I focus on Christ the King Sunday then move into the Advent season and try to promote it as a time to really do some personal spiritual searching and direction. I believe that Advent is the church’s radical and revolutionary counter to the consumer culture that surrounds us.  I believe that with all my heart. We are being bombarded with so many message that this allows us weekly to resist and remember.

Advent passages tend to sound very foreign to our ears.  Jeremiah, Micah, and company wrote about political struggles and shattered dreams and discouraged people. They spoke about repentance, judgment, and hope. We read those words again to remind ourselves that while we live in very different times the realities still exist. We aren’t that much different than those who came before. And by reflecting upon our sin and struggle we can prepare ourselves to celebrate the baby born in Bethlehem.

I admit I still like the other ‘stuff’ going on out there in our world and that’s not a bad thing. But I need Advent to remind me what we are approaching and to help me resist the empire’s drum beat of self centered idolatry.

Each time we light a candle we do so to remember the hope that is found in God. We light a candle to remember that peace really is our message.  We light a candle to lift up the real source of joy. And we light a candle to proclaim that love is what we really do need. And then we gather in a dark sanctuary on a cold December 24th night to light that Christ candle to defy all the other powers and to declare that Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I still will watch Buddy the Elf. I will ride a train at the mall and wave at Santa. I will wait with excitement to see what is in my stocking. I am eager to sample some Christmas goodies.

But I also will see those candles burn that remind me that the church still lives in an empire and that Caesar is still a reality and that the message of long ago still needs to be read today.

Derik Hamby

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Dr. Derik Hamby serves as pastor of Randolph Memorial Baptist in Madison Heights, Va. He enjoys history, religion, movies, music, and pop culture.

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