Advent is – visually – my favorite season at Calvary UCC in Reading. The candles, the colors, and the lights all help me to understand that the season that starts this Sunday is about preparing my spirit for the most special thing – for Christians – that ever was. We prepare for Christmas – we get ready for a birthday part. This preparation includes singing songs that are often not as familiar to us as the well-loved carols and winter songs we hear in malls and on the radio from Halloween until Christmas Eve. The songs of Advent are really songs about Mary and Joseph – they are about risk – sacrifice – danger – all the kinds of things that the media and shopping sites want us to forget about. For most of the world, Christmas is a huge cash cow, and any questions about the beauty of gift-giving and capitalist fervor is shushed. We don’t want to be challenged for our excess – we want to think about how generous we – and everyone else – are being. For Christians, Christmas starts on December 24. For the secular world, that is when it ends.
I often wonder how we got to this point – how did this scary and bitter-sweet story become all about a guy dressed in red? How did we forget that people of faith must focus on giving to those who have nothing, rather than those who have more than they need? One of my favorite quotes – and I don’t know who coined it – is that Santa comes for the well-off, but Jesus comes for the poor. The point of Jesus was and is not that we might have abundance in this life, but that we might share what we have with those who have little or nothing. The birth is not about prosperity now, but about heaven in the future. The first message of Jesus was that we should repent, because the kingdom of God was near. We are clearly not good enough – we need to be better.
I love Christmas, but I really don’t like the perverted form that most of us celebrate. I think it mirrors our cultural selfishness and shallow faith. I would much rather see our churches full than our Christmas trees overflowing. I think one of the most telling signs of all of this is the churches that don’t have church on Christmas Day if it is a Sunday. They really don’t get it – Sunday is the whole point – it is the first day – the day of resurrection – it is exactly the day we should gather for worship. If we want to change the world, we won’t do it by having too much. We will have it only when we learn to be generous to others. May this Advent bring you closer to the God who can make all things new.
And if you are in the Reading, PA area this season, stop by for Church at 8 & 10:30 in Advent. On Christmas Day – a Sunday – we will have just one service at 10:30 – no 8am or 9am Christian Education. That same schedule will happen on January 1. Peace!
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Ohnsman, PhD, has served Calvary UCC since July of 1999.