Now don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. It is my favorite holiday; I enjoy the smells, sounds, sights, and songs that permeate Advent and Christmas. However, no matter how hard I try, I cannot escape the sneaking suspicion that we are missing something, a critical something, which could change our lives forever.
Before I begin to tell you how much I don’t enjoy the shopping season, the fact that Christmas trees are up in stores before Thanksgiving and Christmas music is already being played, let me to tell you a story of a boy who loved Christmas. He enjoyed the season so much he reveled in the music as soon as it was played and collected Christmas music. He collected decorations and decorated his room in elaborate lights and garland, and much to his parents chagrin, taking paint of the walls when he took them down (sometime around February). And as he grew up and went away to college it seemingly got more elaborate, up to the point when he and his roommate decorated their apartment with so many lights that no heat or other light was necessary and the apartment glowed from every seam (somehow, no fuses were blown, no fires occurred, and no one reported them to the RA). Porcelain Christmas houses were collected and set up every year increasingly more elaborate displays, the houses would soon number over 100. And through all of this fun and revelry, there was the underlying reason for the season. Christ was the reason for the season and he knew that but it often got blinded out by all the Christmas lights. Finally a realization began to dawn upon him that something was missing, lights and houses and carols were all fun and he reveled in them every season, soaking in every bit that he could, but it was hollow and empty. It took me a long time to realize what I was missing. Yes, I was that guy that so overdid Christmas that he was forbidden by his mother from putting up his Christmas village in the house because it took up to much space (only half the family room, I mean that is reasonable right?).
Another example of just how much the Christmas shopping season is overblown is that this past weekend I was out doing some thrift shopping with my girlfriend when we happened upon a bustling farmers market later in the evening. I naturally assumed some kind of fall festival was in the works and we pulled in to check it out. Instead what we found was a jam packed store full of Christmas items and people and their “preview 20% off sale” underway. People were elbow to elbow grabbing up stuff and trying to get the best deal. I quickly took advantage of the free snacks they were offering and then we left. Seeing this event saddened me because I knew what these people were missing about Christmas because at one point I was missing the same thing.
I was missing the most important thing of all. The Christmas season does not begin on black Friday or cyber Monday. I had been blinded by the lights, the glitz, and the glamour of the season. However, it does not begin when decorations start showing up in stores or when the radio station starts playing festive music. It begins with the birth of Christ on December 25th. It begins with a family, struggling to live, to find a place to lay their head for the evening; a family that is on a journey, one that begins with the proclamation of an Angel and has continued ever since. I was missing the time of quiet preparation, the closing of the liturgical year and the rhythm of the advent season with its crescendo being reached on the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.
Advent is a time where the world grows quieter, snow blankets the ground (if you are from the north like me) and families huddle together for warmth, a time of reflection and anticipation of something so great we can barely comprehend it. It is a time of preparation and remembrance, of looking back at the travels of a family that struggled and sacrificed.
In time when heroes are idolized and held up in great esteem that some of the greatest heroes of all are missed. Biblical heroes, Saintly heroes, religious heroes of our day are marginalized in a world full of glitz and glamour. The hero of the Christmas story is an unlikely hero, one that is not heard of much in today’s day in age. “The Christmas story has an unconventional hero – not a warrior, not a worldly conqueror, not an individual at all, but rather a family. The details of the story always lead us back to that fact. We see the swaddling bands and know they’re for a baby, but someone had to do the swaddling. So we have a mother and child. We have a father. We have a household.” (Joy to the World, Scott Hahn, page 8) Let’s reflect on this unlikely hero and realize that all families that struggle together, grow together, seek God together, and also love each other unconditionally as did the Holy Family. In this Advent season as the world grows colder let it be an opportunity for us to grow closer, to those that mean the most to us, our family. Appreciate the warmth that only unconditional love can give.
May this Advent season be one of joy, warmth, prayer, and love.