The hustle and bustle of Christmas is upon us! Amazon is advertising two-day shipping, Christmas tunes are heard in nearly every store, and cookies are abundant. Yet we are still in the midst of Advent, a season of great anticipation. As generations of Israelites longed for the coming Messiah, we take this season to intentionally cry out “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, Come.” We repent of our sin and groan in longing for the Messiah’s return.
At least, that’s the goal. Christmas is a time of celebration and hope, and our culture has made it easy to skip the pilgrimage of singing “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” and hop on the direct flight to “Joyful and Triumphant.” This is not just a 21st century problem though– just take a look at many popular hymnals from the past century and you will find a multitude of Christmas songs and very few songs for Advent.
Christians have been waiting for Christ to come back a long time, and it is easy to stop waiting. The Christian calendar stands as a time-tested guide to intentionally slow us down and expect Jesus.
So we wait.
But we don’t wait forever. December 25 is coming. It stands as a day to joyfully celebrate Christ’s first coming while assuring us that Christ will come again, as our Eucharist liturgy reminds us weekly. If we are to recover a proper Advent season, we must also recover Christmastide. This somewhat forgotten Christian celebration extends the joy of Christmas over twelve days. It makes the anticipation and self-restraint of Advent worth the wait.
The twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany were originally set apart by the Council of Tours in 567. This expanded the celebration of the Incarnation from a single day to an entire season. While Christmastide underwent changes through the centuries, the season evolved into a time of rest from unnecessary labor and joyful prayer. No one fasts; everyone feasts. People gather to sing carols and light their houses with candles to symbolize the light of God coming into the world. This was an evangelistic season where Christians told God’s glory.
We wait through Advent with great expectation—too much expectation to limit the rejoicing to one day. Make sure you celebrate the season well! While others are recovering from a season of exhausting consumerism that began in November by taking down decorations on December 26, allow your Christmas lights to shine through Epiphany as a symbol of the Incarnate Light who came from heaven to save the world. More than this, let your lives be a light into the world as you love those around you and tell the beautiful story of the Word made flesh.
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 the First Sunday after Christmas Day, Book of Common Prayer