31 December 2014

Anticipation


I had a long conversation this week with a young man who is trying to reconcile the traditions of Christmas with his Christian faith.  He's taken it to heart and has pages of notes from his research on the origins of Christmas as the holiday we observe.  He became very serious and asked me "what do you think of Christmas?"  Not exactly sure what he was getting at, I said, "well, it's over-commercialized, and of course, it wasn't when Christ was actually born."  More than a half hour later we parted and I mentioned that I had this post rolling around in my head and that our conversation encouraged me to frame it a little differently.

Now this isn't going to be a "put Christ back in Christmas" post, nor is it about the idea the holiday has been hijacked by retailers.  In looking for the true spirit of the celebration, in an aspect of the Christian faith that truly should be celebrated, I wonder if we've let the hype steal what could be, and I think was, one of the most meaningful emotions of the season.  Have we lost the feeling of anticipation?

From the time the angel appeared to Mary, then Joseph, the anticipation of the Christ was nurtured by these two individuals who God chose to reveal his plan of salvation and reconciliation of the fractured world.  And when Mary gave birth, the angels carried that message of hope to shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem, who hurried with anticipation to see this savior-child.  And some time later, having been revealed to magi, these wise men followed a star in anticipation to see who they knew had been foretold in ancient prophecies.  What would be next for Jesus?  His father and mother must have wondered, and then the young men He gathered to His side must have felt such great anticipation in their hearts as Christ healed the sick, made the lame to walk, and opened blind eyes.  And when all hope must have seemed lost on Golgotha, imagine the anxious hearts when they learned the stone had been rolled away.  What great feeling of wonder and anticipation must have filled those with whom Jesus had walked the streets of Jerusalem.

Christmas Eve at the 'ol homestead
When I was a kid, I know full well what the root of anticipation was for Christmas.  Presents.  However, as I grew older into my teens I began to recognize something else about this time of the year.  The warmth of family and friends, the simple joy of being together....and rest from the long year behind.  Growing up in a non-traditional church, I felt more "enlightened" without the trappings of liturgy found in more traditional congregations.  Advent sounded like ritual, which of course must be far from the heart of God.  But as I consider these things today, I wonder if ritual and tradition shouldn't bring our hearts back to the feeling of anticipation for what the meaning of Christ's birth is to this world.

Christmas Eve is my most favorite point on the calender.  There seems to be an almost palatable feeling of peace that envelopes the world around us.  I can walk through our house and feel warmth, hope, and peace in a way that is hard to put into words, but I am sure you understand what I am attempting to convey.  And maybe it is the lights on the tree, or the traditions of family before me that pull my heart to that place.  But from my late teens until now-it has been the most sacred of times as I consider the sacrifice, born in a manger, that brings hope to the world.

Frankly, I don't know that I care that the Church landed on December 25 to celebrate the birth of Christ eons ago.  To me, it is less about celebrating a day than it is about celebrating what the coming of Christ as a baby means to the Christian faith.  I choose to celebrate, with anticipation, what God has already prepared for me in the year ahead.  So in that vein, celebrating at this point on the calender makes perfect sense.  Redirecting our hearts and thoughts during this time should start with the feeling of anticipation borne out of reflecting on the blessings God has provided in this last year and looking forward to fulfilling His calling on our hearts in the year ahead.

This isn't a post about the appropriateness of Christmas trees or lights, or greenery or Santa.  And it isn't about deciding how many gifts cross the line from making this Christmas commercialized or not.  Maybe this is a call to re-frame our thinking at this time of the year to that of anticipation.  Block out the noise and don't worry about whether or not a manger scene is on the courthouse lawn, don't try to make the story of Christ's birth more hip with clever sermon titles or cute phrases.  Just share it and ask yourself the pointed question for the year ahead, "am I living in anticipation of the Savior of the world?"

1 comment:

Jim said...

Nicely done. *That* is the conversation we should be having -- about the hope and peace the holiday brings and encourages us to reflect on.