I grew up at Roswell UMC in Roswell, GA wasting countless offering envelopes drawing pictures on them only to rush out and hand the stack of ruined-for-giving church property to Rev. Malone or Rev. John. They’d greet me with a big hug and promise to put the drawings up in their offices. It was during those years that I was steeped in the traditional forms of worship that I still find myself most draw to today.
Roswell had a beautiful sanctuary, which eventually became a chapel as the church grew to overtake much of the surrounding neighborhood. It was a classic old church sanctuary, with a raised lectern, choir out of sight in a high balcony, and the pews (and three additional small balconies) surrounded the octagonal altar rail at the center. Everything was dark wood and stained glass, including a large backlit stained glass cross at the back of the lectern platform. Every year the Advent wreath would appear, alerting my brothers and me that it was now only That Many Candles Until Christmas. As I grew older the actual meaning of the weeks of Advent took root and I looked forward to it all the more.
Recently my love of Christmas itself has faltered a bit. I mean, I love actual Christmas, but I pretty well loathe what it’s become. We don’t do Santa with our kids and we do weary battle to keep the toy avalanche from the grandparents to a single truckload. I’m fine with being against the tide for a cause, but we’ve been genuinely surprised at the negativity (seasonally, I suppose you could go with neganativity) that we encountered from Christian friends and family. Killjoys. Depriving our children. Ruining Christmas for other kids. My wife Britta pointed out at one point that it would have been easier to tell everyone we had decided to convert to Judaism.
So over the last few years I’ve allowed Advent, my beloved season of expectation, to be beaten down into a season of dread. Still expectation there, but only expectation of trying to guide my boys toward Christ during a season that shouts and stomps and points at self-fulfillment. I’ve gotten to a point of Thanks, But I’d Rather Not.
In preparing for my two remaining Wednesday night youth programs before Christmas, I stumbled upon an odd realization: no one has ever really gotten what they expected when it comes to Jesus. The season of Advent is our own construction, to help us experience some of the anticipation of the Messiah. But the Messiah the Jews were expecting (for way more than four weeks) wasn’t the one they got. No overthrowing the government; let’s return love to everyone instead. Oh, and your God is for everybody now. What?
I’ll take back nothing about the misappropriation of Christmas. But I’ve realized that I have misappropriated Advent on my own; I have ceased anticipating the movement of God in favor of being distracted by the movement of imperfect people, imperfect just like me. My encouragement to my youth this Advent—to you as well—is that you take some time as Christmas approaches to wait expectantly, without expectation; time to anticipate the Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace of the coming Christ.