We can’t avoid it. Christmastime is here! I struggle with the secular celebration of Xmas every year and have to work really hard not to become depressed by it. During this month of December I am going to reprint some Advent Spirit Spots that I wrote for www.spiritandsong.com. I hope to also write some new reflections for this year. This first one appeared in 2007.
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First of all, my apologies for using "Xmas,” but the rudely abbreviated word perfectly describes the secularization of our sacred holy day. "Christmas" is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. "Xmas" is the commercialized secular shopping season that roughly begins in mid-October when the department stores start putting Santa and snowmen on the shelves alongside the jack-o-lanterns and witches.
Xmas doesn't let up. It is directly aimed at our pocketbooks and not at our hearts, despite the treacly sentimentality of cloying holiday songs and animated TV specials that push all the right emotional buttons. And don't get me started on the plethora of heavy-handed toy commercials that are cleverly designed to elicit pangs of consumerist desire in toddlers too young to understand why the nation's economy depends on a successful holiday shopping season. Black Friday, my rash!
Is it any wonder that Ebeneezer Scrooge was so grouchy at this time of year? If this is all Xmas is about — Bah! Humbug, indeed!
There is an antidote to the overbloat of Xmas. It's called Advent, surely the most underappreciated of the liturgical seasons. It has to compete with Xmas, after all. But that's precisely why I love Advent, which is so deliberately counter-cultural.
Had your fill of shopping malls, traffic stalls, and consumer frenzy? Come to church during Advent and, during this Year C, be inspired by the prophets Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah, and Micah. Savor their poetic imagery:
In those days, I will raise up for David a just shoot . . . (Jeremiah)
Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever . . . (Baruch)
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior . . . (Zephaniah)
He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock, . . . for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth. He shall be peace. (Micah)
Losing your sense of balance with all the holiday things-to-do? Come to Advent liturgy and heed John the Baptist's cry:
I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire . . .
Are the dazzling Christmas lights of your neighborhood giving you headaches? Come to liturgy on Sunday and feast on the simplicity of the four candles of the Advent wreath.
Can't stand another chorus of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?" Come to Mass during Advent and sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” a reassuring name that means "God is with us."
Looking for real joy, unfettered by the false joys of consumerism and excess? Hear the gospel on the 4th Sunday of Advent and marvel at the power of God at work in those who have faith:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. . . Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
So, let's not allow Xmas get to us this year. Come, celebrate Advent with your Christian community. Let us truly prepare the way of the Lord not by our shopping and our holiday stress, but simply by preparing our hearts.
Click here to read my original Spirit Spot that was written to reflect Liturgical Year A.