By Jonathan Davis
Cultural Christmas time is full of sentimental things, like decorating the tree with the same meaningful ornaments year after year, making Christmas cookies with the family (with grandma’s secret recipe), and even singing tunes reminiscent of childhood.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is… wait for it… The Christmas Song. The lyrics get me every time:
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yule-tide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos
Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight…
Strangely, those lyrics were sentimental even before the song was old enough to be in our collective memory (and therefore truly sentimental or nostalgic).
Timothy Keller once wrote of marriage, ““Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws.” The same could be said of our love for all things Christmas. Our culture’s love for Christmas is often void of truth, and that’s exactly why we need Advent.
The word Advent comes from the Latin verb advenire, which means “to come toward, to draw near, to approach.”
During Advent, we remember and celebrate God’s drawing near to us in Jesus Christ, the fulfilled promise of His coming to earth, the promise of His second coming, the promise of the kingdom of God, and even the renewal of all Creation.
What would it look like for us to draw near to God?
I think it might require some truth telling.
Our love for Christmas and all the festivities that come with it is nothing more than sentimental mush when those feelings are devoid from the truth of our need for a Savior.
-Without admitting our great need for Christ Jesus,
-Without any longing for Messiah’s return,
-Without naming and confronting the injustices in the world,
-Without beating our swords into plowshares (or at least admitting our cultural addiction to violence),
-Without lamenting the pain and suffering in our world, or doing anything to help end it,
…our warm hearted feelings for Christmas are little more than excessive emotional tenderness, masquerading as true love- a pile of nostalgic cultural dung.
As a child growing up, I didn’t learn much about Advent. In many of the Baptist churches my family attended, Advent was just “some Catholic thing.” What a tragedy, considering the gift this wonderful season is to the Church.
In our culture, it seems we’re not very good at waiting; we want to get straight to Christmas. We’re not very prone to listening; we want to set the agenda. We don’t confront reality well; sentimentalism is so much easier.
The headlines this past week actually make the point. It’s easier to share nice sentiments after a mass shooting than it is to meaningfully work towards minimizing future events, and admitting reality as a nation – that violence, easy access to guns, mental health, and Islamic extremism are all issues that need to be thoughtfully addressed, not only by politicians but also by people of faith.
Sentimentality is always easier than facing reality, yet there is an answer. It’s so simple, yet so profound. It frees us to live into Christmas with a mixture of truth that mirrors the true love of Christ.
Here it is: It’s not Christmas time yet; it’s Advent.
-Advent is a time of hope, expectation, and longing.
-Advent is a time for naming and confronting the suffering and evil in our world.
-Advent is a time to reflect on our great need for a Savior.
The “Christmas season” our culture sells us on (which now starts around Labor Day) is completely opposite Advent.
Instead of hoping for Christ’s return, we hope for presents under the tree.
Instead of teaching our kids to expect Christ’s return, and God’s restoration for all humanity, we teach our kids to expect a big guy in a red suit.
Instead of longing for justice in the world, we long to find the best deals at retail stores.
Instead of praying for and working towards the Salvation of the world, we get indignant when our cashier says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Instead of naming and confronting the suffering in the world, we allow nostalgia (and perhaps a little egg nog) to lull us into self-centered traditions.
And so we are confronted with the question – which shall the people of God embrace: culturally contrived nostalgia, or Divine Love poured out for all humanity?