This is the first Advent season spent in local church leadership as a clergyperson. In my previous ministry settings, this time of year, the phones tended to stop ringing as often. The traffic through the office slowed, the guests were fewer. There was still plenty to do, but things began to quiet.
Things began to quiet where I was because in the local church, the noise was increasing daily. All the special events, special services, special meals … all the special traditions begin to ramp up right about Advent, and it’s a runaway train to Christmas Eve.
And this year, I get to experience it full-force.
It doesn’t matter the size of the church; this season is a time that is full of “stuff.” Good “stuff,” of course. “Stuff” that has deep meaning for so many people, but still “stuff.”
I’ve also had a reputation for being one of those people who gets a little indignant about the liturgical calendar – posting memes on social media reminding everyone that it’s not Christmas until December 25, and that it remains Christmas for 11 more days after that. As one friend says, each year I “put the ‘vent’ in Advent.”
The 12 Days of Christmas (beginning December 25) make so much sense to me as a clergyperson and theologian. And the longer I have focused on this part of the liturgical calendar in the midst of a culture (even in the church) that pretty much disregards the actual Christmas season, the more I am realizing that while I may have begun my Advent vent tradition from a snarky perspective, this year I may be even more adamant about the importance of this liturgical observance.
For the church professional, whether clergy or lay, the combination of religious programmatic responsibilities with the general cultural Christmas chaos during the month of December simply does not facilitate an experience of the Prince of Peace. Right now, it’s full steam ahead till 11:59 pm on December 24th – and chances are there’s a bit of cleanup to be done in the first minutes of the 25th as well. And for some, there are still toys to be assembled and stockings to be filled even yet …And then, there’s the family chaos of the 25th. Very different (and hopefully good) chaos, of course, but chaos nonetheless.
But the coming days provide a different opportunity. For everyone around us, functionally, Christmas is now over. And yet, religiously, it’s just beginning.
It’s an easy criticism to say we need to reclaim the Advent season – to take back Christmas or “keep Christ” in it. But we have that opportunity already. How might we take those 12 days following the chaos, and turn toward Christ?
How might we see those days as an opportunity? An opportunity to do what we talked about all Advent: to find hope, peace, joy and love. And for those of us in church work, I’d put an emphasis on peace.
It’s an opportunity to sit with the theology of Christmas: the Incarnation. To not only preach God with us, but to take time to be with God.
We spend the Advent season incarnating ourselves for the benefit of others to meet the incarnate Christ; and the 12 days of Christmas become our time to live it out for ourselves, that God was with us in the chaos, even if we didn’t feel it every day; and God is with us now, in the quiet and stillness of the in-between time after Christmas but before the new year really kicks off; and God will be with us as we move all-too-quickly into a Lenten season of new and different chaos again.
Friends, this year, reclaim Christmas for yourself. Celebrate those 12 days not with presents, but with presence.