[This is a partial repost from a Thanksgiving-Advent blog article from 2016.]
I used to think that Advent was a time of lament-filled longing, and I lived with the discrepancy of thinking its purpose was akin to Lent's while I surrounded myself with colored lights, cookies, and all manner of things rejoicing. I no longer believe that, for theological reasons.
I love the way that Doug Wilson looks at it in his excellent book on Christmas, God Rest Ye Merry: In the Old Testament, Israel observed a number of feasts, and only one required day of affliction - the Day of Atonement. All of this was in anticipation of the Christ, and now that He's come, are we in a place that warrants four weeks of sorrow over sin in November/December and 40 days of penitent grief leading up to Easter? That would put us at a disadvantage to the Old Testament Jew! (If you were around for the Hebrews sermons, you know that's unthinkable.) But everything's changed:
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14
Because of this, the angel's proclamation makes sense to us:
"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." Luke 2:10
Be penitent, of course. But in the sense that the call of each day is to draw near to God through Christ, repenting and believing the Gospel (Mark 1:14-15). And recognize that, yes, Advent is preparation for Christmas. But since when does preparation denote sadness while the thing itself is on the way? If the whole point is that the Son of God became one of us in order to deliver us from death and darkness, then let's soberly and smilingly observe the time leading up to Christmas with decorations and presents and parties that foreshadow the Party, and all with the buzz of anticipation that little children get on Christmas Eve as they are waiting for Santa to stuff the stockings. This, as Wilson says, is "celebrating Christmas like a Puritan."
I know I just referenced Santa on a Calvinistic church website, which might furrow a few brows. Which brings me to my last point (and one for which I'm indebted to Kirk Cameron, who brought together some loose strands of thought rustling around upstairs for some time):
Don't decide to observe the Christmas traditions as both an American and a Christian, trying to focus on Jesus somewhere in the midst of the cocoa and gifts and nutcracker ballets and reindeer games. Rather, keep Christmas as a Christian American, who recognizes that our traditions might just have Jesus at the center if we either trace them back far enough or infuse them with the deepest meaning.
Some closing examples, starting with the "ripe jolly old elf":
St. Nicholas (the original S.C.) was a staunch, Jesus-loving Trinitarian pastor who was at the Council of Nicea (think Nicene Creed) and gave the heretic Arius a painful lesson (a literal slap in the face) on the importance of sound trinitarian doctrine. Nick was known for using his inheritance to bless children with gifts and aiding the poor. (So teach your children about the Trinity in the days leading up to the stockings!)
The Son of God became flesh and made His dwelling among us in the bleak spiritual mid-winter of our rebellion so that He - the Light of the World - could die on a dead tree for our salvation. (So string those lights on the Doug Fir in your living room with exuberance as you sing of your salvation together!)
By the way, Martin Luther invented Christmas lights.
Bake away and feast well, remembering that the food that feeds you for the season is but a shadow of the True Food that is our Savior! "Taste and see that the Lord is good...."
I'm placing my nutcrackers face-toward the Nativity this year, reminding my children that Herod sent soldiers to kill Jesus. (Want to join me in making our nutcrackers Christ-centered?)
The list goes on (in defense of gift-giving, for example), but I must stop for length. Remember, Christmas cheer is but the beginning of the life of Spirit-fruitfulness made possible for us by Christ's Incarnation, Atonement, and Resurrection. It all starts with Christmas, but let's keep the goodwill toward man going year around in evangelism, giving the greatest gift we can - the Gospel.
Below are the titles of discounted books for sale in the lobby this Christmas season. If I were going to only read one, I'd read God Rest Ye Merry, but they're all great picks. Piper's is a daily Advent devotional, and Wilson's has a daily devotional for Advent at the back, so I'd pick up those books this coming Sunday, if I were me. The Plan is a book for children, whom we must teach about why Christmas is so important.
God Rest Ye Merry by Douglas Wilson
The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper
Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller
The Plan: How God Got the World Ready for Jesus by Sinclair Ferguson
Tidings of comfort and joy to you!