News item: “In Arkansas, an overweight woman was captured on video losing her pants as she grappled to buy $2 waffle irons.”

Her kids are gonna have a great Christmas!  (For some alternatives, search out ‘Advent Conspiracy’.)

Here in the True North Strong and Free, retailers have taken to imitating the phenomenon known as Black Friday which has evolved down in the Home of the Brave.  (We know it’s the home of the brave because so many people are willing to leave home on that day.)  Anyway, it seems we don’t have enough cheap news here in Canada so we hope to emulate the middle-of-the-night-opening, peer punching, queue jumping, pepper spraying, Walmart worshiping culture that now ushers in the blessed season of peace and goodwill.

It was a little over a year ago that I posted a blog called “Merry Pre-Christmas” which introduced my frustration at the theft of Christmas and the cooperation of Christians in the crime.  By the way, it’s a really good blog: appropriate balance of opinion and controversy and stuff, although it received mixed reviews.  My opinions haven’t changed.

Are shopping and decorating and partying the means we use to renew our lives during the winter?  Are we trying to manufacture our own happiness and meaning?  A salvation from the real world?  “Our secular, godless imagination creating its own world of blessed wonder by way of its own story and its own magic.”

I’ve always loved Christmas.  Still do but in a different, more reflective way.

When I was young it seemed like Christmas took so long to come.  The first part of December would drag on slowly and painfully as I waited impatiently for Christmas morning’s packages and presents.  Later as an adolescent, it occurred to me that the obvious solution to the waiting would be to have more Christmases through the year!

In the late 19th century William Dean Howells published a story called, “Christmas Every Day” in which a fairy grants a little girl’s wish that every day could be Christmas.   “… after it had gone on about three or four months, the little girl, whenever she came into the room in the morning and saw those great ugly, lumpy stockings dangling at the fireplace, and the disgusting presents around everywhere, used to sit down and burst out crying.  In six months she was perfectly exhausted, she couldn’t even cry anymore.  As the year progressed … people didn’t carry presents around nicely anymore. They flung them over the fence or through the window, and, instead of taking great pains to write ‘For dear Papa,’ or ‘Mama’ or ‘Brother,’ or ‘Sister,’ they used to write, ‘Take it, you horrid old thing!’ and then go and bang it against the front door.”

To put it another way, there is a necessary value in absence and in waiting.  A gift is better when we have time to wait, expect, think.  Our need, our desire, our emptiness, our anticipation, our hope all contribute to the joy of receiving.  Without that time of reflection, Christmas itself just becomes another enlarged attempt to gratify ourselves.  That’s why the distinction between Advent and Christmas is important.

Today Christians begin to celebrate the season of Advent.  Let’s be clear, Advent isn’t Christmas.  Christmas is Christmas.  And Advent is Advent.  Advent is a time when we reflect on our neediness and our longing for a savior, and a time for clinging to those promises from our heavenly Father.  It climaxes when we formalize our hope with our worship on Christmas Eve.  Christmas then begins a feast and celebration of the event come true: Incarnation; God with us; Jesus the Christ.

Advent reminds us that we have not and can not save ourselves, that only God can save us.  Christmas is a joyful response to our realization of, and waiting for, that reality.

But that’s just me.  I’ll probably never know the thrill of Black Friday’s Running of the Rednecks or the adventure of fighting for $2 waffle makers.  I’d rather wait.