Rev. Mark Buetow
It’s that time of year again: Advent, the time when Christians around the world complain that the culture is taking over Christmas by putting up decorations after Halloween, while simultaneously crying that the culture hates Christmas because the atheists won’t let us put Nativity scenes up in public parks. So then come the battle cries: “Keep Christ in Christmas!” “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!” “Bah Humbug to saying ‘Happy Holidays!’”
You can have blue or purple for Advent. You can have the tree up or wait until Christmas. You can run the Christmas playlist or wait until December 24. You can have turkey or ham. You can put out a Nativity Scene or not. You can even say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” While these things may or may not point to Jesus more or less, you are free in Christ to use them or not. Steady lights or twinkling lights don’t make Christmas any more or less about Jesus.
That’s because, no matter how flashy or plain the decorations and traditions of Christmas might be, or the greetings and displays are--these things don’t make Jesus any more or less in-the-flesh. Those things don’t make Jesus any more or less present. That’s because Jesus didn’t promise to show up where there were twinkling lights and candle-light worship services. He promises to show up where the water and Word are splashed at the font, where He, the Word-made-flesh, is preached, where He Himself shows up under bread and wine on the altar. You could have all the greenery and lights in the world or none at all and Jesus’ promises about where He is and what He comes to give--the forgiveness of sins and true peace with God--are unchanged.
The cool thing about Advent is that the church, no matter what the world is doing, is hearing the Word that prepares us for Jesus to show up. Even if you’re coming from or heading to a noisy Christmas party, that stop at church to hear the Word is a moment out of time. A pause. Out of the hustle and bustle. Away from the people trying to trample each other for the latest sale. For some, the glitter and glitz is fun, an enjoyable part of the holiday season. For others, this time of year brings sadness and even bad memories. But in the church, all of that takes a back seat to the Coming One: The Lord who rides to His death. The Coming King who will appear to take home His Bride. The One whose sandals John is not worthy to untie. The Lamb who appears to take away the sin of the world. The Baby in the manger, born for sinners to give His life for sinners. The Baby who is wrapped in swaddling clothes but will one day be wrapped in burial cloths. The Baby who comes forth from the womb of Mary who will one day come forth triumphant from the grace. The Savior who is Christ the Lord who gives to each of us the new birth of water and the Spirit from above. Indeed, this is the Jesus who has come for the person who’s had one too many spiked eggnogs or the person whose loneliness is darkness in the midst of twinkling lights.
Enjoy the lights and chaos of the Christmas holiday if that’s your thing. Leave things bare and undecorated if you prefer that. Toss a “Merry Christmas” at your atheist friends if you feel so inclined. Shout “Happy Holidays” to those who think it’s their job to wage a war for the right Christmas greeting. But above all, behold the Lamb who comes to take away the sin of the world. The Lamb who has taken away the sin of the world, who has taken away your sin. Hear the proclamation of the angelic host that this Christ child born is your Savior, who brings true peace, the peace of sins forgiven and being right with God forever. Rejoice in the Lord wrapped up for you in the flesh, in the water, in the body and blood and Word. Merry Advent and Happy Christmas because of Jesus.
Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, IL. He is also the Media Executive for Higher Things.