Conflict Around Christmas: Advent, Part One
This week, Dan begins our Advent series for the month of December. He outlines the many facets of the Christmas season, reviewing a study by the American Psychological Association about the conflict the season brings. He then discusses the places where we get held up by many distractions, believing our war is against culture and the way Christmas is celebrated. He invites us to instead recognize that Christ’s coming to earth was an invasion — the signaling of a war against darkness, in which we are invited to participate.
Looking to end of year, we begin an Advent series. The goal is to have an honest conversation about this reality of Christ coming in flesh and the buildup of stress around this time.
What do we find in the story of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 and 2 that helps us understand the ambivalence of the season? We’ll begin to see why this is a difficult and thrilling time.
Today, we’ll think of the conflict we experience during this holiday. Secondly, we’ll think of how the holiday leads to feeling dazed and confused. Thirdly, we’ll explore deeper levels of disruption in the coming of Jesus. Finally, right before Christmas, we’ll talk about the song of Mary and Zachariah.
The American Psychological Association did a study of this time, and the conclusion was that this is actually the least likely time people will take their lives; the struggle with depression comes more in mid to late January. However, they found that women do take on more stress during this time. They also found that there is a wearisome comparative struggle for most people, a perceived poverty. Finally, people report more emotions like love, delight, and honor, but at the same time there’s more opportunity for disappointment (and therefore conflict).
As we anticipate a new year, the buildup seems to come down on us until it’s overwhelming. It’s also a holiday that many Christians get very defensive about. How will Trump implement, “This year, people will say ‘Merry Christmas!’” — I don’t know. And even if there is a war against the holiday, there’s something much deeper going on.
One question that comes up: Was Jesus born on December 25? It’s one of 365 possibilities. The holiday grew in significance during the reign of Constantine. Whether or not he was a believer, he used the holiday to order the empire around one religion. Most argue that the day was chosen originally because of a pagan festival celebrating the turn toward spring, and the anticipation that the sun will rise again.
What is important is that Jesus came — fully God and fully man. So every day, we celebrate the incarnation with awe and confusion.
What the mind cannot comprehend, the heart receives with wonder.
We can see the playfulness in how a pagan holiday is given more meaning. So it’s enough for me to celebrate Jesus’ birth on this day — with a smile.
Whatever we understand about Christmas, it begins with the word invasion. This is about the kingdom of God coming into this world, a world under the authority of evil. Much like D-Day, there is an understanding that the enemy can no longer stand.
As we see in the passage in Luke, this is a bloody invasion. There can’t be only nostalgia or the desire for mere peace among all. The time is also not meant to be gobbled up in distractions. It’s a time to hold the year, honoring and pondering and preparing for a transition.
Something is wrong when believers think they have to respond contemptuously, “Merry Christmas,” when someone says, “Happy Holidays.” What is actually important is to know that this is a time of disruption, in which evil wants us to be caught up in distractions. We need a culturally-counter understanding of what Christmas brings.
It’s not about getting rid of Santa. It’s about taking a step back and reflecting about if you’re ready to go into war and follow this baby.
We’re called to enter into a war — not against culture or the way Christmas is celebrated — but against the kingdom of darkness, which we get to announce through our own story and face. We get to participate.