My thoughts (Ernest Disney-Britton):
As a young boy, my wait for Christmas officially began 25 days before on Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house. That evening, I excitedly handed out instructions to the assembled 30+ family members about their respective roles in the upcoming family Christmas program! “The Christmas Play,” as it came to be known, took place on Christmas night after a long evening filled with plenty of prayers, family, and food. For the night’s play, my Uncle Sam always handled the stage curtains (bed sheets). My dad handled the lighting (from his wood shop); and I directed the wonderful play, which I had written, starring us kids. It always made the adults laugh. In the darkened living room, we’d gather close together and begin with singing “Joy to the World” with me at the piano, followed by the laughter of the play. After more singing, our clan always ended the night singing “Holy Night” and “Silent Night” with my grandmother at the piano, before we all headed to our homes.
I had been scripting and planning The Christmas Play, since the start of school in September, and while years later my sister and cousins would joke about hating it, to me that period of waiting and preparation was the best part of my Christmas season. When Pastor David asked us to reflect on the theme “What Christmas Means to Me,” I immediately recalled those childhood memories, and also immediately mourned the loss of that period of waiting. Yes, today there is the frenetic preparation of shopping, but doesn’t that look forward to the end of the season? Yes, there are the parties with family and friends, but isn’t the only difference the red and green decorations? Yes, there is the excitement of children, but doesn’t it come from the sugar of candy canes and the anticipation of new toys?
This fall, artist Barnaby Barford constructed a 10-foot-tall sculptural installation in the shape of a Christmas tree. Comprised of 3,000 replicas of retail shops, it is a monument to what this season means to most of us: a season of shopping and commerce. As I approach the age of the infamous main character in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” I work all the harder not to see this as only the season of “Commercialism,” and instead to connect it with my childhood excitement for “waiting.” In Luke 12:36, the writer says, “And be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.”
For me, this season still means waiting — but, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve too often focused instead on finishing. In response, this year Greg and I chose to spend the 25 days before Christmas, also known as “Advent,” doing a fast of preparation as we wait for Christ’s birthday to begin. Fasting during Advent is how Christians spent these days waiting hundreds of years ago, and it’s a powerful way to ready our spirits.
Thought for the day: Christmas is not something we are waiting to be over. It is something we are waiting to begin, and we invite you to join us as we wait!
We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the suggestions on the How to Pray page.