The American church may be losing its grip on Christmas. Last year, while Christians were lamenting the decision of some major department stores to drop the word Christmas from their advertising, some megachurches decided to drop Sunday worship because Christmas fell on a Sunday .
Perhaps the desire to drop Christmas worship was due to Christmas burn out caused by an overdose of frantic shopping, office parties, sappy TV specials and gaudy decorations. One megachurch told the local paper that the decision was made because people are so busy during the holidays and Christmas is supposed to be a family day.
What!? Do we need any more encouragement to be more self-absorbed? Does the church want to go on record stating that public worship is optional even on one of the few days that most people come to church?
Since Wal-Mart has given the nod to “Merry Christmas” greetings this year, it would seem that the American church has turned over the ownership of the holiday to the department stores. Advent was replaced long ago by the “Christmas shopping season.” This year the high priests of marketing have decided to start the shopping season early in order to boost the economy. America is looking to Wal-Mart and Macy’s to preserve Christmas traditions rather than the church. Even Jerry Falwell is concerned that Christmas celebration might be removed from the department stores .
A 2005 survey by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University found an overwhelming sense that Christmas is losing its religious theme. Only 11% believe that most people still “focus on the birth of Jesus at Christmastime.”
The faithful observation of Advent can help us prepare for the real meaning of Christmas and keep our perspective amid the holiday madness. Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “coming” and designates the four weeks before Christmas when Christians reflect on the meaning of the coming of Christ.
While the ancient Hebrews yearned for the promised Messiah, anticipation celebrated through Advent can awaken our deep yearning that Christ come more fully into our lives. Advent traditions such as lighting a candle for each Sunday of Advent, decorating a Christmas tree during the last week of Advent and lighting it for the first time on Christmas Eve to mark the light of Christ coming into the world, help us prepare for Christmas. By observing the Advent season as a time of devotion, worship and service, Christmas Eve and the 12 days that follow can be a time of feasting and celebration worth waiting for.