Amen! Hallelujah! Merry Christmas!

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.       - Collect for Dec. 30

Merry Christmas! Finally being able to say that on the evening of December 24 (OK so, I might have said it once or twice before then) felt like finally exhaling after holding my breath for a really long time, the way some kids do on car trips when passing cemeteries or crossing bridges. Christmas, and just how much of it is appropriate, seems to be a constant challenge if one is surrounded at the same time by faithful Christians who honor and respect the full season of Advent and by a consumer culture that wants to make the Christmas season all about buying goods, starting shortly after Halloween. I love Advent, and I always have. I do connect with the sense of waiting and expectation, and with the symbolism of the Advent wreath, gradually adding more light (one additional candle each week) as we get closer to the coming of the Christ child. I am also from New England, where the cold and dark that is characteristic of this time of year is a real and present thing (way more so than here in Northern Virginia). So the fact that the Light of Christ coming into the world occurs in the same time of year as the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, the pinnacle of darkness, is a symbolic parallel that is not lost on me.

For the exact same reason, though, I am also someone who wants to “deck the halls” and string the lights way earlier than my wife is ready to do. If it were up to her, she would not buy a Christmas tree until the afternoon of December 24. (Side note for the curious: this year, negotiations led to us purchasing and erecting our tree on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, but not decorating it until 4th Advent, Dec. 23.) I’m used to everything turning brown or gray and the trees being bare by November, so the evergreens and bright red holly berries that we make into wreaths and garlands seem like nature’s own defiant statements of hope, burst of color when so much of the plant world is monotone and dead. Surely this is worthy of welcoming into my home and given a place of honor decorating the door or the center of my table. Likewise with the lights that people use to creatively decorate their home and yard, providing some light and perhaps a smile for passing strangers on dark nights. I’m all for this. So I will agree with “team Advent” that we have to remember that the season is all about preparing our hearts and homes for the arrival of a baby who will transform the world with his radical and reconciling love.

But I also feel the need to stand up for “team Christmas,” people who may just need to hold on to the joyful, celebratory parts of the Christmas message for a little longer than the liturgically appropriate 12 days of December 24-January 6th. I once read a blog post in which the author was pleading her fellow Christians not to become “the Advent police.” “Some people just need Christmas more than others,” she argued. By which I think she meant some people need the brightness in a dark time of year, or signs of hope and joy in a dark time in their lives, more than those for whom all is steady and right.

So here we are, finally in the midst of the Christmas season. Whether Advent was a cherished time of reflection and preparation, or a real challenge to focus on the “right” things, we’ve made it to Christmas. And we get to stay here for at least another week. Amen! Hallelujah! Merry Christmas.

Molly O’Brien