Christian story and ritual, including that relating to Christmas, evolved over centuries. (Given the growing influence of Santa and his reindeer, it continues to evolve.)
In the early years of Christianity, well after the crucifixion, much HOPE was invested in the promise of Jesus’ return. The annual celebration of the weeks leading up to his first appearance on earth, as a babe, on Christmas morning was called Advent.
Today that time is observed through the lighting, each of 4 Sundays up to Christmas, of a candle on a wreath. The wreath’s circular shape symbolizes God’s eternal love. What is no longer stressed in this day and age, at least not among casual celebrants of this holidays, is that Christmas not only marks that anniversary but symbolically anticipates Jesus’ return and judgment of humanity.
Advent is not just about “that fantastic OLD story of birth”, but also about “a new one” that depends ever so much on our own willingness to open our hearts; to prepare ourselves, so that we may be “a just dwelling place for God” for all eternity.
Contrary to what most people believe, in the early years of Christianity Advent was a time of trepidation. It was a time of harsh self-examination. First and foremost it was a time of awe and fright for those with a conscience. The kind of fright that caused the faithful and the questioning to consider their need for a miracle: for a light to illuminate their steps through this world. A light, to make “all things new”.
Advent caused them to consider their entire lives within the context of eternity. There are lots of opportunities to do that, that don’t involve a divine birth or sacrifice.
But it seems to me that the Christmas season and observance is as good a time as any to shiver with both awe and rejoicing – at the miracle of our own existence; our capacity to illuminate one another’s steps. And to be a just dwelling place for that which most good. And often named: God
Written by Reverend Stefanie Etzbach-Dale and Copyrighted December 2014