Tag Archives: war on Christmas

Do Not be Afraid – Christmas will survive Advent

Advent is my favourite season of the church year. 

In fact, I weirdly start longing for Advent sometime in September most years. I get tired of the long season of Green or Ordinary Time. Usually by Thanksgiving (celebrated the 2nd Sunday of October in Canada), I am ready for anything but more parables from the Gospels. I ready to see anything but same-old, same-old green paraments hanging from the chancel furnishings. I am ready for the deep, rich blues of advent to begin. Don’t tell anyone, but by that time of year, I sometimes even long for snow!

As a kid, Advent always bore this mysterious quality for me. The church I grew up in used to hang this huge advent wreath from the 50ft. sanctuary ceiling – like seriously, it was the size of a small kitchen table. And this elderly usher would lower it down using a pulley system during the children’s message so that we could light the appropriate number of candles. The shaky old usher often looked like he was about to let the whole thing go and the wreath would come crashing down on our heads. That was part of the fun for sure.

Yet, I also remember the little seen blue stole that the pastor wore for just a few weeks. I remember the haunting verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel that we would sing in anticipation of Messiah. I remember hearing the stories of that interesting figure “John the Baptist” and the camel’s hair clothes he wore, and the locusts or giant grass hoppers he ate. I remember the wild sermons he preached, and how the drama of his words seemed to echo in the sanctuary:

       Prepare the way of the Lord
      Make his paths straight

But the exciting images of Advent lessons didn’t end there. The best story of Advent – and one of the best of the whole year – was the story of the Angel coming to Mary. I loved hearing those fist words the angel speaks, I could imagine a young girl just going about her business in her room and suddenly somthing, someone beyond worlds appeared to her:

        Do not be afraid

Of course! Of course, the Angel would say that! Because meeting an angel would be the coolest and most terrifying thing ever!

Advent has the best stories, and they have stuck with me since being a kid. These days as a pastor, I start getting excited weeks ahead of when I have to preach them. I start letting those words of John, those words of the Angel and words of Mary percolate in my mind so that I am ready to preach them when the time comes.

Increasingly the past few years, Christmas has been creeping into Advent. Sure there have always been Christmas parties during advent, and choir/band/orchestra christmas concerts, and Christmas displays in malls. But Christmas seems to more ubiquitous than ever and before Advent even starts.

And maybe I didn’t notice it as much as kid, but it feels like the whole world is joining in the generic Christmas celebration. Almost everyone celebrates Christmas these days, whereas Christmas used to be a mostly churchy thing to do… or at least not a very big deal to non-religious folk.

And who am I to judge? If the secular world needs a cultural celebration to fend off the darkness of winter, to spread joy and cheer, to make an excuse to give and receive gifts, than great! Christians appropriated Christmas from pagan winter solstice traditions, why can’t the secular world borrow Christianity’s holy day in order turn our dark time of year into a celebratory time?

It is even interesting to watch the secular world work out how the commercial and cultural celebration works for it and I am fine with that. This year there was a movement in Canada to keep stores from putting out the Christmas displays until after Remembrance Day (Nov. 11th). Many stores start their Christmas campaign November 1st, right after the halloween campaign has been put to bed with a candy hangover.

Despite my willingness to share Christmas, the people I don’t get are the Christians who start fighting this fictitious “War on Christmas” around November 1st or 12th. Even government officials are capitalizing on this unfounded fear that the phrases “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” are going to take the Christ out of Christmas. Or that Xmas isn’t a long held Christian short hand. I think we are afraid of losing something and so we hold on more tightly.

The idea that Christians are in any way persecuted in Canada is about as absurd as saying Canadians don’t care about Hockey. But I will leave the persecution bit for another post.

What bothers me about the War on Christmas is that its real opponent seems to be Advent.

Christians seem to forget that Advent even exists. Maybe instead of being offended by Happy Holidays, we should be correcting Merry Christmas with Happy Advent.

Because here is the thing: Christmas needs Advent.

We need Advent.

Christmas without Advent is like giving birth without pregnancy. It is like opening a novel in the middle of the story. It is like skipping the first half of every movie you watch.

It is like Easter without Good Friday, or the story of the Fall in Genesis without the story of Creation and paradise, or the story of the Israelites coming to the promise land without the story of leaving Egypt.

So often we want to make Christmas about idyllic manger scenes with little drummer boys, sheep and donkeys, angels and shepherds, when Christmas is about un-wed mothers, the oppression of Empire, and the slaughter of children.

I think we want to imagine Christmas an unblemished perfect little story, because we are afraid of the darkness.

Advent reminds us Christmas is not about nostalgia and sentimentalism. It isn’t just singing Silent Night while holding a candle on Christmas Eve.

We need Advent because it tells us the whole story. It tells us the deeper story. John the Baptist, the Angel and Mary are not just cool characters in rich narrative. They are powerful symbols and reminders that we are still Advent people.

Advent reminds us that Christmas – that the birth of Messiah – is for a world still waiting in darkness, still waiting for justice, still waiting for healing. Advent tell us that Messiah isn’t just a cute baby born in a barn to poor parents. Advents tells us that Messiah is God’s answer to human darkness. God’s light sent to people living under the thumb of the Roman Empire, people living under the oppression of white privilege in Ferguson and Staten Island, people living in the systemic poverty imposed on the Indigenous people of Canada, women living under the constant threat of sexism, misogyny and sexual violence, people who practice a religion different than the empire’s being forced to celebrate holy-days that the White Christian Empire accuses them of taking away.

The symbols of Advent still draw me in just like they did as a kid. Even though I am the one putting on the blue stole, and reading the words of John the Baptist, the Angel and Mary. And even when I get crochety because Christmas music is playing in the malls in the middle of November and my Facebook feed is full of people worried that Christmas might lose Christ because someone wished them Happy Holidays, Advent reels me in.

Because I need Advent too.

I need Advent and its promise of a new world, its hope given to a world that feels hopeless too often and because of those four little lights that push away the darkness in order to make room – to make room for Messiah.

Messiah who is already here, but still on the way.

So do not be afraid.


What does Advent mean to you? How do you observe Advent? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

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I am at War with Christmas

war-on-christmasSomeone better tell Fox News and Jon Stewart that I really exist. I am the actual guy waging war on Christmas.

If you have been anywhere near the internet these past few days, you know that the annual “War on Christmas” meme is in full force, particularly on Fox News. Jon Stewart took advantage on Dec 3rd, to poke some hilarious fun at the idea that Christmas is under attack.

That being said, I think this year I am actually signing up. I think I  want to openly go to war with Christmas. Against Christmas. As Christmas’s enemy.

Every year as soon as Halloween is over, I see myself falling into the same patterns of avoiding Christmas. For nearly two months every year, I work hard not to have Christmas. So why not be open about it? Why not embrace the War on Christmas?

Throughout most of November and December, I do many things to keep Christmas from being celebrated. I try very hard to avoid saying “Merry Christmas”, and I prefer to be greeted with Happy Holidays. I even actually like the shorthand X-Mas. I make note of all the other holidays being celebrated in my calendar. Hanukkah, the Feast of St. Nicolas, Santa Lucia, Kwanzaa etc… I have even been able to cancel a few community/workplace Christmas pageants in the past few years and it felt great! I don’t think Christmas should be in schools, I don’t think it should be in the workplace, I don’t think it should be noted by public figures or politicians. If I could remove Christmas from most of the last 8 weeks of the year, I will have succeeded in my war.

Christmas music can be the worst! I generally don’t listen to Christmas music in my car or at home, and it irks me to have to listen to it when I can’t control the sound system. I complain when hear Christmas music in malls. The sound tracks playing in most commercial spaces make me want to thrown up. Christmas concerts annoy me, especially the ones on TV.  I get sick of Christmas music so quickly. It feels like the drummer boy is using my head as a drum. And when pop musicians make Christmas albums, I almost wish I was deaf.

When I see decorations in public spaces, a part of me wants to tear them all down. All the green boughs, the red bows, the holly, the wreaths, the ornaments, all of it could just disappear and I would be fine with it. I just don’t get why people want Christmas lights all over the place, even if it does get darker sooner in November. I often criticize stores that sell Christmas merchandise and I try not buy any. Christmas inventory is so kitschy most of the time. I scoff at people who put light displays up on their house after Halloween. And don’t get me started on those who put up Christmas trees in November… it drives me nuts. What is the point of having a giant tree up for month in anticipation of present opening day?

Often, Christmas movies make me cranky. Christmas TV episodes, specials, and Christmas themed TV are almost always awful. It is like they are trying to capture some mushy, gooey feeling  that I want no part of.  But Christmas commercials and advertising needs to be banned from existence. Another “Ho ho ho” from Santa and I think I will lose it. You will find me in some corner sobbing as I whisper “No more Santa, No more.”

In my work life, I spend a lot of time encouraging the people around me to keep from celebrating Christmas too. I try to keep Christmas from invading my workplace and I always schedule work for myself on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then after those big days, I have time with my family and friends. I am becoming more sure that the people I work with think I am the grinch who has stolen their Christmas joy, because I force them to put a lid on the Christmas celebrating.

Now with Facebook and Twitter becoming ‘War on Christmas’ battle grounds, I have become a Christmas grinch on social media. I have called out my friends for loving Christmas too much. I have advocated pairing down the celebration and toning down the cheer a notch.

In November and December most years, I just wish Christmas would go away. So when Fox News folks start complaining about the War on Christmas, I feel like saying, “Yeah, finally we are winning.” Christmas is getting what it deserves. It is getting pushed aside,  moved out of the way. I want something else to take its place, I want a new holiday for November and December.

Or rather, I want an old holiday.

For you see, I am a Lutheran Pastor.

And I love Advent. I think our world needs Advent. I think we all need Advent. When Christmas begins in November, it stops being what it is supposed to be, which is “The Feast of the Nativity.” When Christmas becomes a two-month long celebration of shopping and a chance to gorge ourselves in sentimentalism and nostalgia, it is not the “Mass for Christ’s Birth.”

Sarah Palin, one of the Popes of American Right-Wing Christianity recently said, “I love the commercialization of Christmas, it spreads the Christmas cheer.” She has missed the point. Obviously. But she has named an important reality. We just don’t want to deal with the things that Advent deals with. We want to avoid the harsh realities of life, and have a big party instead. A party that has now become the symbol of global inequality and broken social systems.

Christmas has no meaning on its own. Christmas is empty and vapid when it is a two month opportunity to increase debt and avoid real issues.

Christmas only makes sense at the end of Advent.

It only makes sense when we have waited and watched for Messiah. It only makes sense when we have longed with Israel to be released from captivity, exodus, exile, and oppression. It only makes sense when we have admitted our failings and imperfections, when we have admitted the suffering of the poor and lowly around us, the injustice of the marginalized and victimized, when we have admitted that we are complicit in perpetuating systems of violence, abuse, and death.

There is a reason, I wage war on Christmas each year. Because it isn’t Christmas yet. We haven’t got there, we have missed what needs to come before. As we long for Messiah through Advent, and discover again all the ways in which our world needs a Saviour, the Feast of the Nativity, the Feast of the Incarnation can finally take real shape. The coming of Messiah into our dark and broken world can finally be the light and hope we truly need.

Our world is still very much in need of a Saviour, our world is full of captivity, exile, exodus, oppression, conflict, suffering, poverty, systems of violence, abuse… and death.

We don’t like Advent because it means we aren’t there yet, and that feeling opens up a whole world of emotions, ideas and experiences that we don’t want. We want to be at the party, not sitting outside hoping to get in. But that is where most of the world is, sitting outside waiting to get in… and realizing they almost certainly never will.

So tone the Christmas down this year. Put out 4 candles, and wait with all those who still need a Saviour more than Christmas present.

And maybe after waiting with me, with Israel, with all those who still need saving, you will see why we don’t sing “Joy to the world” until we have  sung “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” first.

What do you think? Should we be at war with Christmas? Or is it okay to celebrate Christmas for two months each year? Share in the comments or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Interested in some more snark:

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