Taking a break from doom-scrolling about the war in Israel, I noticed chatter on social media about Christmas. For many, this was the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend — those last moments before getting back to regular routines. Rather than focusing on the coming of the Infant Jesus, the comments were about hell. Specifically, going to hell for putting up Christmas decorations early. In the end, it turned out to be a reaction to some artificial intelligence-created tweet, though I suspect there was a real debate being had somewhere. And as odd as the mortal sin Twitter debate was, it hits on a real struggle.
In America, Christmas begins when Santa shows up outside Macy’s at the Thanksgiving parade. I’m sure someone has found a way — if you have no TV and your children are homeschooled, perhaps, it helps — but Christmas decorations abound. I was in a Macy’s the weekend before Thanksgiving where a song announcing it’s “officially Christmas” was playing. “But Advent!” my heart cried out. “I need it!”
Christmas, I confess, when it really comes, can tempt me to depression as I see Christmas trees being thrown out on Dec. 26. “Now it begins!” I cry to the dying tree. But in truth, the struggle is so appropriate. At the beginning of the liturgical year, it sets us up for the reality of our lives. We are called to live the Gospel amid secularism and practical — if not all out — atheism. The struggle is real.
Making the most of Advent
And yet, instead of cursing the early decorations, how about seeing the opportunity in them? Yes, many Christmas celebrations are not quite about the Nativity. Enjoy your inflatable Santa if you like. Surrounded by the lights and Mariah Carey songs — how are we shining a light on the truth of Christianity, on the reality of Christ?
One of the things I’ve been thinking about doing this short Advent is reaching out to people I haven’t heard from in a while. I remember a friend suggesting doing that during the harder days of COVID-19. I’m not sure I did. I’ve been a Christmas card failure for many years. This could be the year to change that. And not focusing on what I’ve been doing so much as spreading the joy of the Gospel in little ways.
During these weeks of Advent, we are called to sacrifice and reflection, to prayer and even fasting. It can be done around the office holiday party; it really can! And at the same time, we don’t need to be seen as Grinches. Go ahead and put out your wreath — maybe you already have. Just don’t forget what that is all about. Sure, in many ways, it’s just seasonal décor at this point, but the preparation for Christmas reminds us of who we are as Christians.
Be the light
St. Leo the Great proclaims in the Office of Readings for Christmas: “Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation.” He implores: “Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.” He continues: “Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition.” That’s what we are preparing to do these coming days and weeks!
On Christ the King Sunday, I was at a Mass where a 20-something young man movingly hugged a lady who used to sit outside this particular church hostile, insisting on money, but now comes in to sit during Mass. A cynic might assume she’s inside because the weather is colder outside. Something else might be going on. She told me she knows the Catholics “would have her back” if anyone tried to harm her. She says it is “beautiful to be in the presence of God” — and that he is present in the Church and the hearts of the people praying there. That is what we need to show people. Who cares when you put up your Christmas lights? The real question is: Are we being his light? In Advent, at Christmas, and until the day we die?