The leaves have fallen and the air is finally crisp amidst the defiant, evergreen, Alabama pines. Advent is in the air. The chill as I walk through my neighborhood is a warm greeting within my soul. Walking the pavement of my street is a sort of beating of the bounds. My eyes assess the homes around my own and I notice brightness permeating my once dark walks.
Throughout the town and neighboring cities where my parish resides, I have noticed something. With each passing year since Covidtide, lights are put up earlier and earlier and by more homes than ever before. I genuinely wonder whether this is a local phenomenon or representative of a trend across our nation. The lights go up before Thanksgiving and now immediately after Halloween, often on All Saints, which is an unknown feast to many Christians and nonbelievers alike.
However, I write not as a grouchy proponent of saving Christmas lights for post-Advent, but as an observer who cannot help but wonder if those who do not follow Christ are setting man-made lights upon their homes because deep inside, they know the world is retelling a lie from hell that the only thing in this life is matter. Perhaps even the most secular materialist cannot help but yearn for the spiritual realm to permeate and penetrate the darkness of old man winter. Could it be that even in the cold hearts of faithless men the Spirit is moving them to deny the cold reality of a materialism-only Christmas, which is really no Christmas at all? Despite ourselves, has post-modernity burned itself out so all that remains is the spark of light hanging upon outdoor shrubbery, begging for meaning?
The brightness of neighborhoods in my community despite the emptiness in the pews tells me that even the unchurched, formerly churched, and self-righteous materialist rejects their own culture of “always winter and never Christmas.”
Then Paul stood in the midst of the lights and decorations in the city and said, “People of Suburbia, I perceive that in all things you are also religious. For as I passed by and beheld your lights and decorations, I found a blow-up with this inscription: ‘Happy Holidays’. What you therefore celebrate in ignorance, Him I declare unto you.”
No, that is not The Message, but it is a reality I believe we find ourselves in. Although the wise in the eyes of the world have rejected Christ, they have found it necessary to fill this season with light. Further, they continue pulling their celebration of a Christ-less “Christmas” into November and the edge of October. There’s even the general greeting of “Happy Holidays” from strangers, neighbors, and retail employees alike, yet an irony that many celebrate no holy days during the actual holidays. Therefore, like St. Paul in Athens, I believe the Church has the ability to re-enchant Christmas for many who cannot place their finger on why they are drawn to decorating with lights or what exactly makes this time of the year “magical” to many.
It is because the true magic has become man.
The light of the cosmos has descended.
The One who said “Let there be light,” is enthroned in a simple manger.
How can we as the Church define the season for our neighbors? It always begins with a smile and an invitation to meet over a cup of warm drink. It continues with the Church simply being the Body of the Christ who defines Christmas. Our time is now to go tell it on the mountain by starting with our neighborhood. The call has never been clearer to “take it to the streets” – and go caroling. Reclaiming the light by defining who is the true Light is an excellent way to fight against the darkness that was humiliated by the birth of a humble Savior.
Songs and music can open the Gospel and Scriptures to those who would not dare to listen to a Bible passage, much less set foot within a Church’s walls. However, greeting a neighbor with carols and hymns from their childhood and inviting them to an evening singing together at a Lessons and Carols service can ignite the flame of the Spirit internally that has led them to decorate externally. We are blessed with such a heritage as ancient Christians and English speakers, let us take up the carols and hymns of old in this bleak midwinter and give meaning and reason to our neighbors on whom we celebrate with lights. As Christians, may we lead our neighbors to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services celebrating together the birth of God at Christ’s mass.
The eve of the Christmas festival is ripe for reminding others that God “is actually not far from each one of us, for. ‘‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’” (Acts 17:27-28, ESV). My fellow sinners and saints, boldly use this opportune season of Advent to lead others to meet the God-man appointed by the Father to “judge the world in righteousness” as proven “by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17: 31, ESV). What is the worst that could happen when sharing this Gospel over a cup of hot apple cider? Some shall mock, but “others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.'” May God joyfully bless our Advent with neighborly gatherings, boisterous caroling, communing over hot cocoa, and the blessings of His Holy Ghost who draws us near and gives us hope and light in the midst of darkness.
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
-Acts 17: 32-34, ESV