Jenny Williams: Is it 'the holidays' or Advent?

Small practices can allow us to reclaim Advent as a preparation for Christ rather than ‘the holidays’ consumerist busy-ness.

We are in what the world calls the “holiday season.” Now more than ever it’s easy for us to compartmentalize our faith. We easily lapse into referring to the time period between Thanksgiving and December as “the Christmas season,” or worse, “the holidays.”

Actually, for Christians, this season is called Advent -- the time when we remember Christ’s coming in the Incarnation and when we await Christ’s second coming. Our waiting for both of those advents is filled with anticipation. In the long history of the Christian church, Advent has been a very quiet and penitential season, with time to reflect on these comings of Christ.

But our hectic “holiday” schedules almost totally prohibit those times of quiet.

One way that we might make room for God in our lives would be to evaluate honestly what we do with our time during Advent. What do we do out of mere obligation during the season? Do we attend social engagements that we think we must be at, but we really don’t enjoy? Do we bake a ton of goodies, suspecting that it “won’t be Christmas” if we don’t? Do we really have to send out Christmas cards every year? Which of the “holiday” activities in which we are involved truly honor Christ?

There was no room for the holy family at the inn because the world’s activities (the census) packed the place full. If our schedules are filled with worldly activities, will we have room in our own lives to give to Christ?

Christians can reclaim Advent with several small practices. We can put practices in place in our households that anticipate what Christmas truly is (the birth of Christ) not just what Christmas has become (a meal and some presents). We can alter our speech habits by refraining from using the phrases “Happy Holidays” or “holiday season” (just in the last month I caught myself almost saying “holiday season” to my kids!). We can alter how we use our time by examining our social calendar. We can use an Advent wreath in our homes. Each Sunday you can light a candle on the wreath to mark the time until Christ comes. Even a small time for household devotion can help orient us to what is important during Advent.

By taking ourselves out of the loop of obligation and pressure of “holiday” traditions and practices, we not only relieve stress. We also make space to re-focus on Christ. Being a person who is not frazzled and frantic during Advent is a tremendous witness to an overly busy world.

Jenny Williams is pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Kingwood, West Virginia.