While shopping today, my three-year-old pointed to a Christmas tree and asked, “why can’t people wait for Christmas”? She didn’t ask it critically but out of curiosity, interrogating the expression “oh, they just can’t wait for Christmas” more than the theology. It is a good question—why do we find it so hard to wait for Christmas? Why do we begin decorating and celebrating Christmas before Advent even begins? Why do we feel compelled to rush into this particular holiday earlier and earlier each year?
If you have followed this blog over the past few years then you know that I’ve written about the importance of Advent before. Two years ago, I wrote that skipping Advent makes makes the birth of Jesus the end of the story, rather than the beginning of the ongoing story of the restoration of creation. Last year, I argued that rushing into Christmas strips us of the important practice of waiting and of self-examination. Both are true but neither post really answers my daughter’s question. (Granted, marketing, consumerism, and nostalgia are all embedded in these past reflections and are largely at the root of even earlier Christmas celebrations.) So, why does it seem that we “just can’t wait for Christmas.”
At the heart of the Christmas story is the fabulous claim that God became a human being—that God was born as a little baby in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, it is the story of heaven coming to earth. What is more, through the Incarnation of God in Jesus, all of creation begins to be renewed. The birth of Jesus begins the redemption of the world and, as such, it begins to make the world beautiful again. And so, we adorn our houses with lights, bring trees into our living rooms and decorate their boughs with lovely little ornaments. We use special plates for dinner and take extra care in wrapping gifts for each other. In our businesses and (some) schools, we put up trees and bows and ribbons and even nativity scenes, making our everyday worlds colorful, sparkly, and more beautiful.
We have long ago forgotten the reason for these decorations, if we ever really understood such practices at all. But, despite our ignorance or forgetfulness, our (ridiculously early) Christmas preparations still echo the great declaration of the renewal of beauty that comes when “Christ our Savior is born.” I think that this is why we begin to celebrate Christmas so early—we long for beauty, for the enchantment and wonder of a lost, miraculous worldview in which God was at work. We yearn for a world made new, made special, made holy even—and Christmas is the only cultural moment in which we can indulge these desires. Thus, each year, we begin to “deck the halls” a bit earlier, in the strangely secular and commercial attempts at transcendence embodied in Santa and silver bells.
The good news of Christmas, however, is that the world is still enchanted—it is a world that God has made and that he has come to redeem. The good news of Advent, the season of waiting and self-examination before Christmas, is that God is coming again. The beauty that we crave each Christmas, that we long to see extend beyond a cityscape made lovely for the holidays, is already being revealed and will come to fruition when Jesus returns.