I think it’s fair to say that Christmas in the United States is mostly a commercialized experience around themed decorations, gifts, and traditions. We know from history that the holiday itself was created by hijacking a pagan holiday (winter solstice) and making it “Christian.”
What if—since we’re all in a forced “new normal” this year—we focused on Advent instead? Advent: the season marking the new Church calendar and the continued longing for all things to be made new. Advent includes Christmas, but I think it better echos our 2020 cry of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It was this kind of cry that birthed the Church. Church started in houses, and those small gatherings visited by the Spirit produced powerful worship and transformation long before a single sanctuary was constructed.
Advent echoes our 2020 cry of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
Maybe your church building will be closed this year. That is a painful thing. Part of the joy of this season is the nostalgia, the places, the smells, the songs/choirs, the food, the people, the traditions. I get and echo your grief. My God, what a year full of grief.
Remember: the Church never closes, because the Church is people, not buildings. Jesus will not be returning and making all things new for one building; he will be returning first for his Church, the people. A sanctuary is a holy and safe place of refuge that we can be for one another anytime and everywhere (yes, even virtually). If Jesus himself was born in a strange place, then we can celebrate his birth in strange places as well.
Let us remember that the majestic and humble entry of Jesus was the advent of “God with us”—right here in the mess of it all. Let us remember in the longing we all feel for all things to be made new that there is still “good news of great joy for all people!” Let us remember this Advent that the most sacred things happen in the most unsuspecting places, and especially in the sanctuary of human beings like us.
Rev. Jennifer Carpenter serves as a hospice chaplain in Orlando, FL. She is a loud laugher, musician, avid coffee drinker, and professional beginner. She loves life and learning with her boyfriend, Sam, and their dogs, Charlie and Renegade. You can find her sporadically posting at @jcwritethesong on IG.