Winter is coming.
If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you might hear that statement a little differently than if you were a snowmobile enthusiast. In GoT, winters can last years and be unduly harsh, not to mention all sorts of nastiness that comes from north of the wall. Snowmobilers can’t wait for that first snowfall, just enough to make it worthwhile taking it for a spin.
The first one’s made up and you might not have any idea what it’s about. Or even care. But, to be honest, I’ve never been on a snowmobile, so I don’t really know what that’s like. (Please don’t offer to take me for a ride.)
It rather depends on your perspective.
Advent is here, and that means that something’s coming. Literally. Advent means “coming” in Latin. These four weeks remind us to prepare, to get ready, because something’s coming. What that is, exactly, depends on your perspective.
This could be the liturgical season of Advent, or, as some may know it, Shopping Season, the Season of Stress, the Party Season, Cold for the Holidays, "Oh My, Is It December Already?,” "Is It Christmas Yet?,” and even, yes, my personal favourite, “winter is coming” (you have to hear it in John Snow’s voice).
That last one's a little tricky, too, because, well, you know … for some people, even saying the "C" word is wrong. It's religious and we can't have that in our secular society. Say Happy Holidays or Season's Greetings, even Compliments of the Season (what does that mean, anyway?), but don't say Merry Christmas. Oh dear, I just did.
Maybe "The War on Christmas" is more of an American thing, but we get caught up in it, trying so hard to be politically correct, I suppose. Some celebrate other faith festivals at this time of year and some celebrate a good time and perhaps they'd rather not hear about Christmas or see the symbols or hear the songs. So maybe Happy Holidays is good. Well, if you get holidays now. Or Seasons Greetings. That's good because there are a variety of seasons, right?
Jews celebrate Hanukkah this month. Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day in December. Then there's the Winter Solstice (Modraniht if you're a traditional Saxon), Saturnalia, Pancha Ganapti. Christmas, Yule and Kwanzaa. And it's winter, just plain old winter. So maybe a generic greeting is good.
Or, maybe we could use what's appropriate and respect our uniqueness.
I think we could spend a lot of time worrying about keeping the "Christ" in Christmas in word and song and symbol. But isn't it more important to keep the "Christ" in Christmas in deed?
Near the beginning of Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol," Scrooge tells his nephew that he should "keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.'' "Keep it!'' repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it.''
Keeping the "Christ" in Christmas isn't really about words and symbols, it's about how we live. It's about recognizing that, as Christina Rossetti wrote, "Love came down at Christmas," the same love Jesus preached and taught and - most importantly - lived. When we live that love each day, not just on Christmas Day, we truly keep the "Christ" in Christmas.
Oh, Advent. You probably thought I got off on a bit of a tangent there. Not really.
Advent is traditionally observed as the time of preparation for Christmas, a time of waiting and expectation, a time of hope. But the "Christmas" that we prepare for isn't just a commemoration of the past event. Jesus did come, Jesus lived and died and lived again, and continues to live on in us. Jesus also invites us to live as he taught, loving each other in this and every moment. Jesus also invites us to look forward with hope to his coming to us again, whether that’s in some later apocalyptic moment or in those little moments each day when we see Jesus alive in others around us. So Advent is, in a sense, a time to prepare to celebrate what has been, engage what is and hope for what is to come. That's a lot of preparation to be observed.
So maybe it's time to do less observing and more experiencing. Advent is the time to "let every heart prepare him room," as Isaac Watts wrote in "Joy to the World." In the life lived after that first Christmas, Jesus taught us how to prepare to receive him again. And again. And again. That'll put the "Christ" in Christmas.