Every year at around this time of year, it seems that all of evangelicalism gets geeked up about the supposed War on Christmas. The real war at this time of year, says Goebel, is not whether retail store clerks say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, but a crisis of misplaced priorities in our churches and homes. In our observance of the Christmas season we jump right over Advent and go straight to the Christmas carols and decorations. And though Advent is making something of a comeback in evangelicalism lately, in many places the emphasis is all wrong as those supposed Advent devotionals that are all over the place at Family and Lifeway are really Christmas devotionals in disguise.
Advent is a journey back in time to before the first coming of Christ. Its themes are waiting and repentance, with a heavy focus on the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah and the ministry of John the Baptist. Advent takes us through the whole story of the people of God all the way up to the birth of Christ, so that when Christmas comes we have the whole story in mind.
It is human nature to want to lick all the icing off the cake before the birthday party even starts, to skip all the hard work of fasting and preparation, reflection and repentance, and go straight for the carols, decorations, gifts, eggnog and pumpkin-spice lattes. But the season of Advent, as the Church has historically observed it, puts us in a mood of waiting and anticipation. We do not celebrate Christmas prematurely like the rest of the world, even though we still go to all the Christmas parties and do all the Christmas shopping and enjoy all the Christmas lights and decorations. Instead we are in a mood of waiting, reflecting and anticipating the coming of our long-promised savior Jesus Christ which we will celebrate on Christmas. And when Christmas comes, we are ready to start celebrating Christmas–not all Christmas-ed out and wondering what the hell happened, like the rest of the world.