I spent much of Advent anxiously tracking parcels via UPS and Fed Ex. The temptation to pay a little extra to get the goods faster is always stronger around the holidays. I can continue to be last minute in my planning if I can pay more to compensate for my lack of forethought. None of us like to wait, I routinely check the traffic on my phone before heading out to look for the quickest route. If the wait at the restaurant is over 20 minutes chances are I will leave and eat elsewhere. I want what I want when I want it. If Amazon ever manages to successfully do delivery by flying robot drones I predict a number of people who will pay for their packages to arrive within 30 minutes.
I had some friends who took a very different approach with how their children opened their Christmas gifts this year. Instead of a frenzy of wrapping paper before breakfast they took a more measured approach. They had a clock that played music on the hour. Every hour when the music sounded each child was allowed to open one gift. They then played with that gift for the hour before opening another one. It made the unwrapping last all day, and it also helped the child to appreciate each individual gift and the giver. It made Christmas more thoughtful, more contemplative. It reminded me of the way some Jews celebrate Hanukkah - each night for 8 nights they would light the Hanukkah lights and exchange gifts.
The Liturgical calendar is set up to make us wait. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve night. I must confess I was a bit of an Advent snob this year. I found myself saying on many occasions 'we can't sing that song yet, that is a Christmas song and we are still in Advent'.
There is a desire in all of us to rush to the celebration of Christmas without the waiting of Advent. We sing -
Yea, Lord we greet thee,
born this happy morning,
Jesus to thee be all glory given.
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing.
on the second Sunday of Advent without caring about the disconnect to the Liturgical calendar. We want Christmas and we want it now.......and then we blink and it is over in a flurry of songs and wrapping paper. We are finished with Christmas and focused on New Years.
But Christmas isn't finished with us.
In the liturgical year the celebration of Christmas is not limited to one day. Christmas continues to Epiphany, Monday January 6th...the 12th day after Christmas and in some traditions continues until the first Sunday after Epiphany which is January 12th next year.
I imagine if we celebrated Christmas according to the Liturgical calendar all the way to the Sunday after Epiphany we would a) be content to not sing Christmas songs so early and b) be exhausted!
If we slowed Christmas down, opened our gifts more mindfully, spent time saying thank you, really enjoyed each gift we were given instead of rushing to the next, maybe Christmas would become a transformative experience instead of just a few days over indulgence.
In many Christmas sermons I heard in my youth, the preacher would rush Jesus from the manger to the Cross. 33 years covered in the breath of one sentence. Instead maybe we should let Jesus rest in the manger of our hearts a little longer, let him grow in strength and stature, let him speak to us, challenge us, love us, comfort us, heal us.
The Civil Rights Preacher Howard Thurman said:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky has withdrawn,
When the kings see their prophesy rightly fulfilled,
When the princes and shepherds have gone;
Then the true work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken hearts,
To feed the hungry,
To free the prisoner
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all brothers,
To make music in the heart.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
Think back over the past few days. Over the joys of gifts given and received, over those small moments of great delight, of generosity and abundance. Offer them with thanksgiving back to God, and ask him to show you how you can say along with Ebenezer Scrooge 'I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.'