I want to be on the winning side of the Advent Wars. Living in church-land means that the choices I make about observing religious seasons, like Advent, express more than my own personal understanding of how the world works. My choices define the boundaries for others. I just want to listen to Christmas music (including the cheerful, secular stuff), put up some decorations, and drink my tea from a “Christmas mug” with poinsettias on it. But these short incursions into Joy provoke the Advent police who are interested in maintaining a detached, watchful presence.
I’m not prepared to spend the next month in a holding pattern, withholding joy, avoiding music, and abstaining from sweets. In past years I’ve tried to embrace the purifying season of Advent with its austerity and focus on waiting, preparing, and vigilance. In the game of holier-than-thou, I’m fully prepared to let anyone else beat me. The theological justification for fasting and refraining from celebrations makes sense, but in the bigger scheme of things, I’m not convinced. A friend recently suggested the title Confessions of a Redeemed Advent Grinch for a blog post on her changing attitudes about keeping a pure Advent.
And then there is this post about negotiating the boundaries between the secular and Christian dimensions of the season: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2012/11/top-10-reasons-christians-should-stop-whining-about-secular-xmas/
Erin Wathen points out that much of the reasoning behind her defence against the fight by Christians to keep Christmas “pure” has to do with generosity: it takes a generous spirit to recognize that many other religious groups celebrate significant holidays in December. Fighting to “keep the Christ in Christmas” is just a way of saying we are trying to keep something to ourselves and for ourselves. It also takes a generous spirit to recognize that many people, including those with little or no religious convictions, are moved to give gifts to one another and even to seek a taste of something holy. I love her suggestions to focus on spending more time serving the poor, going to worship, getting out into nature, spending time with people we love, healing, and showing compassion.
And there’s also this post on Sojo.net about the so-called War on Christmas: http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/11/30/war-christmas-sign-minister
Sandlin also draws our attention to the social injustices of our world made especially visible during this season. He rallies behind a war against the consumerist Christmas arguing, “I refuse to let the story of my faith be co-opted by corporations who only wish to convince us that we are privileged and we do deserve what we have more than others and we should revel in our abundance even as we celebrate the birth of the child who laid in a feeding trough.” Take heed Advent police: the case against a consumerist-Christmas is the one that matters.
And then there’s this from a friend’s Facebook wall: ”I see Advent as a gradual crescendo, but all in the same key, pretty much, or in the related minor to Christmas’ major. Whereas Lent is a decrescendo, in a totally unrelated key, fading into total silence on Holy Saturday before you get to the DEAFENING BLARE OF TRUMPETS IN ANOTHER KEY ENTIRELY at the Vigil.” Small joys in Advent are part of the bigger narrative line that leads to the celebrations of Christmas.
And this: “Advent… tells the truth by reminding us that we are incomplete, that this life is not all there is, that nothing we can do/achieve (work, money, love) can actually give us security/control, that only God can free us from fear and from our own inadequacy. I think that the secular Christmas is not of God insofar as it encourages us to idolize gifts, money, consumption, material comfort, and a false image of perfection.”
Finally, there is this observation: I’ve not sure how to compare keeping Advent pure against how my religious convictions influence other lifestyle choices I make. There could be just a tinge of hypocrisy going on here. The Advent police want to turn off the cheery music and pull down the colourful decorations, yet the same grinches would think nothing of spending hours watching movies that degrade other humans or live in other ways that bring harm to the body.