Anybody else just burned out yet? In the mornings sometimes, while dropping my youngest off at school, we'll make a quick flip over to 106.7 FM to hear a Christmas tune. Even my eleven-year-old agreed that it felt better to just turn the radio off altogether the other day. Like some probably unscientific study I heard, Christmas music in the background has the adverse effect of causing stress instead of spreading joy. I don't know if that's true, but it definitely didn't feel true to me at eleven years old.
The church is set up to be exactly opposite this phenomenon. The world needs you out there prepping and planning, shopping and setting up, months in advance. The church doesn't even open the doors to the season until the week after Thanksgiving. And even then just barely. The world is singing about the arrival of Santa Claus and the Christ child from the word go. The church says for us to stop and wait; to let the world push on ahead while we get busy slowing down and feeling what it feels like to wait. In other words, as the world gets busier, the church gets slower and quieter. For the world, there's an almost imagined moment of utopia to come. The church centers down and takes time to reflect upon its nature and the tendancy of all of us to get it wrong and misunderstand big God moments in life. The world gets attached to the holiday spirit. The church curtails its excitement and waits for something real and lasting. And it's no wonder the holidays win out as heaviest stressors for some mental illnesses. December 26 and January 2 are massive let-downs. The worldly mindset in me joins those who want all traces of the holiday season to disappear after Christmas as quickly as possible. But the church just begins its Christmas season (celebration) on December 25. Then we sing our carols instead of those dirges (emo hymns: those deep, dark, complex songs we all complain about for four weeks in December). The church gets from cradle to lost boy in the temple to wisemen epiphany to the Lord's baptism usually in the twelve days the church celebrates Christmas. Twelve days. That's it. We reflect and slow down and wait in penitence for around twenty-eight days during the four Sundays of Advent. We cheerfully carol for only twelve.
The liturgical journey is a mature walk. We grow simply by walking it. We learn in the midst of a frantic sprint toward an already fallen Utopia that God's people are tasked with living that same longed-for joy the world chases during the holiday season; only, we must find that joy and live it out of inevitable suffering. This baby will overcome death through death.