One of the great gifts the Christian community has given to the world is Christmas. People who self-identify as atheist or agnostic often celebrate Christmas.
I know Jewish families that have added Christmas to their Hanukkah celebration. There is even a word for it. They call it “Chrismukkah.” Of course, the business world enthusiastically embraces Christmas. For traditional Christians, the Christmas Season is only 12 days, from Dec. 25 until Jan. 5. For Madison Avenue, Christmas seems to begin earlier and earlier each year. (In one local restaurant, I saw Christmas trees on display in October.)
Many Christians are concerned about the commercialization of our sacred day. I would like to suggest that the world is a better place because so many people have altered their routines and taken a few weeks to spend quality time with family, neighbors and friends. Many give generously to charities and volunteer in helping agencies during the Christmas season.
However, the concern over the commercialization of Christmas is valid. Christmas offers a wonderful gift that is often missed in the trappings of Christmas. Many are like the proverbial child that opens the Christmas gift and plays with the box and not the toy inside.
We can get so caught up in shopping, decorating and partying that we miss the real treasure that Christmas brings. While Christians have given the world Christmas, unfortunately, we have not been so generous with the precursor for Christmas, the Advent Season.
For Christians, the Advent Season begins four weeks before Christmas. It is a season of preparation. For the ancient Church, it was a season of prayer and fasting.
We drape our sanctuaries in purple or blue to reflect the mood of this season. To ceremonially capture the gift of Christmas, congregations display a wreath with five candles.
Four of the candles are Advent Candles and focus on the attributes of the true gift of Christmas. The true gift of Christmas brings hope, love, joy and peace to our world.
In the traditional congregations, Advent hymns are sung as a new candle is lit each week of Advent. These are songs of longing and anticipation. They focus on our need for hope, love, joy and peace.
Material things are temporary and soon vanish. But these have permanency. They will last a life time.
On Christmas day, the purple or blue is replaced with white and gold. The longing hymns are transformed into the joyous hymns of Christmas. The fifth candle is lit. It is the Christ Candle.
In this simple act we remember that ultimately, Jesus is the reason for the season.
The Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black is senior pastor at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton.