Wednesday, December 10, 2008

We are a part of both (like it or not), but we can choose to move toward an Advent rhythm

ONLY 14 MORE SHOPPING DAYS! So, how’s your season far? We're half way between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, those first chance and last chance opportunities to do what needs to be done in order to make people happy on Christmas Day. Only 14 more shopping days! By now, you're either getting anxious and inching toward being frazzled, or, possibly, moving gently toward peaceful anticipation. Though some of us fantasize about a purely spiritual preparation for Christmas, I bet most of us lean toward the anxious side (hey, it's called parenthood!).

THE RHYTHM OF KULTURE KRISMAS. I observe two rhythms simultaneously at work at this time of the year. To me, this is fascinating and challenging. We’re all a part of Kulture Krismas – the consumerism and frivolous frolicking that drives much of this holiday in America. Kulture Krismas has religious components to it, but the religious components are primarily used to entice us to buy, spend, reinforce and reproduce much of the collective American Christmas tradition. Kulture Krismas is an expression of civil religion in America. I may not like all of it and disagree with much of if, but it is a part of being an American. I can no more divorce myself from it than become an alien in my own land. It is less "evil" than frivolous and market-serving and culture reinforcing. In this sense, I see myself as "in" it but not "of" it.

THE RHYTHM OF ADVENT. But I am also part of a very different rhythm -- a spiritually-directed Christian experience and season called Advent. Advent precedes Christmas. It's a time of searching one's heart. It's a time for repenting of one's carelessness and misguidedness. It's a season of repairing and preparing one's soul to receive anew the power and promise of the Incarnation. It is a time of waiting. Historically, Advent was approached with penance, fasting, and solemn preparations--all building toward the glorious eruption of joy at the Good News of Christ's birth. Advent takes imagination to appreciate and experience, but we use our sanctified (and unsanctified) imagination in lots of ways (some far less worthy!).

ADVENT LEGALIST. I've attempted from time to time to try to purge my December activities from what I call Kulture Krismas. I would have only a purely Advent experience. I would shun and disparage all non-spiritual practices and deny all worldly appetites. I would not sing of Santa Claus or imbibe frivolous tunes. And I would sing only Advent songs during Advent, withholding Christmas carols until their due time: Christmas! I would be exemplary in observing Advent--a purist. And I found myself being just like the town mayor in the movie Chocolat--a boorish legalist who, in the end, couldn't deny his own desire for the very "evil" chocolate he so tried to resist and keep others from enjoying during Lent.

NOTE: READ CHESTERTON. Frankly, reading G. K. Chesterton has freed me from much of my Advent legalism. More on that in another post, perhaps.

INTERWOVEN, BUT DISTINCT. So, I'm a part of both Kulture Krismas and Advent. The two are simultaneous but very different, interwoven but distinct. One winds down, the other winds up. One is rooted in consumer culture; the other in Christian tradition. While Kulture Krismas drives us, Advent draws us. Kulture Krismas produces anxiety; Advent cultivates anticipation. Kulture Krismas wrings us out; Advent prepares our hearts.

TOWARD WHICH ARE YOU TRENDING? We may not be able to avoid Kulture Krismas, but we can choose to shift our focus and actions to align with Advent. See what difference it makes when Christmas Eve rolls around.

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