My children would play Christmas music in October if I let them. I don’t let them, not in my house or my car. I don’t like Christmas music until December or at least until after Thanksgiving. On Wednesday of last week, the day before Thanksgiving, Tyler was driving, I was in the passenger seat and Natalie in the back. She was humming something. Tyler said, “What are you humming?”
“Silver bells,” she said, mumbling under her breath about mean old dad not letting her play Christmas music yet.
Now, on the week leading up to the start of Advent, it’s okay at my house and in my car to play it. It’s also okay to start telling the story: “And this shall be a sign, the angel says: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Now, in 2017, the sign for me that Advent is coming is not angels singing or a child wrapped in swaddling clothes. No, the sign for me is that I have tennis elbow reaching for my wallet. I am happy today to have survived another Black Friday, with black as a sign of grief over debit card purchases. I celebrate that I am still upright; I’m still standing after another Black Friday. I haven’t been hauled off to the poor house yet.
The signs for me that Advent is here are gift cards to Lizard Thicket, listening to the Beatles on Spotify while driving to Alabama, and seeing mom in the assisted living home. That’s how I know that Christmas is coming, and that’s a far cry from donkeys, shepherds, angels, and swaddling clothes. I’ve never owned a donkey (and owning one is not on my bucket list), never been or even met a shepherd, and never seen or talked to an angel.
So, here we are the week before Advent, and what do we do with the Christmas story and does it have any relevance or meaning for us? The church has a nice story recorded in Luke and Matthew, from a very different world and culture some 2,000 years ago. And though it does offer a bit of emotional relief, some dismiss the story as unimportant. I get why. So, why all the fuss over Advent?
After all, the manger story was not much of a story, really. We would have never heard of it if not for the person it produced. The writers of the New Testament paid scant attention to it. Matthew and Luke mention it but for only a brief time and Mark not at all. John (Ch. 1) goes in another direction. The Apostle Paul never mentions the birth of Jesus.
But the baby grew up. He preached the good news; he challenged people to change their lives; he went to the bedsides and to the outcasts…Then people started to pay attention to how it began.
So to those who want to dismiss it, I understand. Why all the fuss over Christmas?
Since both of our kids have December birthdays (5th and 21st), there is some sentimentality attached to the season for me. I vividly remember wrapping them up in those hospital baby blankets (swaddling clothes) and taking them home to our stable, our home. December reminds me of the nervousness I felt when we took Tyler home and the fear that we could not change a diaper by ourselves. I wanted to rent a nurse because I was convinced it took three people to do that. When Natalie was born, the fear I felt at my age having a second child, a girl named Natalie, “Christmas child,” is still very real to me.
For two of my life’s Christmases, the sign of Christmas was a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, i.e. a hospital blanket. But that is nostalgia. Some would say that the biblical Advent story is a quaint sentimental story that has no relevance for us.
So, the question of the day is, do we need this 2,000 year-old story or should we ignore it?
I can’t speak for you, but I need it. I need the reminder that God comes to me when my life is a mess, just as God came into a messy world when Jesus was born. I need the reminder that God knows, understands, and cares about me.
So, yes I need Advent, and now is the time to play that music.