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Saving Christmas

A few weeks ago, a salesman stationed in the local Sam’s Club on “Black Friday” approached a woman to offer her the latest deal on satellite services. “Excuse me, ma’am, do you have satellite or cable? We’re running a promotion that could save you a lot of money.” “Neither,” She responded. The young man must have sensed the opportunity to make a sale because he looked as though someone had just turned on a bundle of Christmas lights behind his eyes. Before he could deliver his sales pitch, however, the woman spoke again. “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t afford it. Not only do I not have cable or satellite, I haven’t owned a television in seven years, and I can’t afford to buy one.” Lest you think I was hiding in the aisles of Sam’s eavesdropping during my holiday shopping, I will tell you that the woman was me. As a graduate student with almost no income, I balance my checkbook and spend with caution, and this year, I dreaded the holidays as they approached. Stripped of disposable income, I found myself increasingly irritated by the onslaught of post-Thanksgiving sales in which I have never participated, the non-stop advertisements that assaulted my senses through every available medium, and the swaths of reckless drivers in parking lots that would just as soon cause an accident than give up a prime parking space real estate near the entrance of Target. As my exasperation continued to wax, my mind magnified life’s other imperfections. Lost and sick loved ones, strained friendships, frustrated job searches and other sadnesses filled the foreground and dimmed the light of the season. I was not alone in these thoughts. I knew others for whom this time of year heralded increased hardship and reminded them not only of brokenness in their lives, but brokenness in a society that rushes to the stores in an attempt to fill the personal voids that the holidays compel them to confront. We buy more, we eat more, and we fill our New Years with resolutions for the future, but somehow, we do not manage to quell the heartaches and satisfy the longings that envelop us during the season. I thought of all these things while I read Joy Netanya Moyal’s blog post, How Advent Saved Christmas. She writes:
The other night at my prayer group we went around the circle and shared about the family situations we were going home to for the holidays. Unsurprisingly, no one’s Christmas was shaping up to be ideal. We spilled out disappointments and old hurts and obligatory visits that prickle our spines with dread. And as I thought about this tension, about the wide gap between what is and what we feel ought to be, I thought of how I learned that Advent is not just remembering how the world waited for the coming of the Messiah, but how we still wait for His coming. It is a time to embrace the ache of our lovesick hearts, to rejoice in our hunger pains, to survey the broken mess of our world and know that, because God fully entered into it, He will also fully redeem it.
Advent is the time period before Christmas that begins the liturgical year for many western Christian traditions. The word Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “the coming,” and it can be a translation of the Greek word parousia, which is associated with the Second Coming of Christ. For those who observe Christmas, the time of Advent is a time of anticipation, a time of waiting for the birth of the promised Redeemer. While the faithful can rejoice in Advent because the Redeemer has already been born, they wait also for the fulfillment of His promise to return. The time of Advent carries with it an answer for the challenges of the holiday season. For those among us who feel more longing at Christmas than holiday joy, it is important to remember that it is precisely because of our imperfect world that we have a reason for Christmas: redemption. The desire for a “perfect” gift or a “perfect” holiday, one free from the life’s anxieties, is perhaps an expression of the human longing for redemption. While we give thanks for what we give and receive this holiday, we must be thankful, too, for what we lack and for our brokenness; it is the “wide gap between what is and what we feel ought to be” that opens us to the possibility of Redeemer and draws us closer to the true meaning of the season.