Developing A Gospel-Centered Holiday Mindset
Christmas, as a holiday, has its fair share of excess baggage. The holiday has its roots in pagan and Catholic traditions. Our Puritan ancestors, to whom we owe a great deal spiritually, absolutely refused to celebrate Christmas. They called it “Foolstide” and preached against the egregious and excessive behaviors associated with the season. While there is much to criticize in the commercialism and excess that accompany Christmas, there are deeper concerns that should give us pause as we approach the celebration.
The celebration of Christmas is not in and of itself evil. There is absolutely nothing in scripture that forbids believers from enjoying the holiday. The issue is not about what is right but what is best. As believers, our focus should be on the gospel. Christmas and all of the traditions that are bound up in it can become a barrier to celebrating the beauty of the gospel. It is so easy for us to get caught up into seeking the ideal Christmas experience that we begin to focus on things that cannot bring us true and lasting peace. This is true not only of Christmas. The pursuit of the ideal Christmas is a part of the pursuit of the American dream where everybody is healthy, happy, well-fed, entertained, and comfortable in peaceful, two-story suburban housing. In an blog post related to this discussion entitled, What’s the Difference In Living For the Kingdom and Living For the American Dream, Pastor John Piper wrote,
Our testimony to the world works precisely opposite to what the prosperity gospel says. When Christians are willing to suffer for the cause of the unborn, for racial justice, and for spreading the gospel, then the world is going to say–just like it does in 1 Peter 3:15–”Where is your hope?”
Our answer will not be, “In houses, cars, and lands.” Rather, we will say, “My hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is going to take me to himself. To live is Christ and to die is gain. I’m here on earth to spread the gospel. I’m going to keep my life as wartime as I can in order to maximize my effect for showing Jesus as valuable, not things as valuable.”
If we truly believe the message that Christ and His gospel are our hope then everything we do including how we celebrate “the holidays” should reflect this understanding. There have been many attempts by believers to move in this direction. Some families reduce the amount of gift giving. Some make manger scenes the focal point of their decorations as opposed to “jolly old saint nick”. These adjustments are good in and of themselves but if we intend to avoid celebrating the American dream Christmas redux, then a more radical change of heart ad holiday are in order.
One means for helping to restore the gospel to its proper place in our December holiday is the celebration of Advent. Many people when they hear the word Advent think of a calendar with chocolates or candy inside. While Advent calendars are a modern derivative, the holiday itself has a much more richer and meaningful history as it relates to the gospel.
The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which simply means coming. Advent is a celebration of the gospel in the first and second coming of Jesus. It incorporates the whole counsel of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. It’s complete focus is on Christ and it doesn’t carry all of the fluff and baggage that traditionally come with Christmas. There are many reasons why Advent should be the centerpiece of your celebrations but consider the following case built by Elliot Grudem and Bruce Benedict in a blog post from The Resurgence entitled, Why Recognize Advent:
Advent is about much more than gifts and good deeds. The story isn’t all fun and wonder. There is darkness and gloom. There is longing. There is joy and light. There is redemption and grace. There is judgment and final victory. In a way, recognizing Advent is expected. In another way, it’s counter-cultural. Advent allows you to both show the horror of sin and the blessings Christ came to make known, “far as the curse is found.” When you recognize the season of Advent over a number of services before Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you get to talk about these things. You help your people understand why the inbreaking of God’s kingdom through the birth of Jesus is “good news of a great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10). For example, during Advent you can talk about how to observe the humility of Christ’s birth amidst the gaudy overindulgence of our consumer-frenzied Christmas. You can talk about how crying out, “Come, thou long-expected Jesus” counters our demands for our best life now.
The eternal impact of a shift of mindset and practice towards a more gospel focused Advent celebration is incalculable. If we want to demonstrate to a watching world that we are serious about the gospel and its author our Savior then it is incumbent on us to ask the hard questions about the way we have always done things. Don’t let this season slip by without seizing the opportunity to find “comfort and joy” in a celebration that encompasses more than just a cute manger scene.
For additional Advent resources visit the following sites:
Learning To Advent – A series of articles on why and how Advent should be celebrated
Looking Back: Advent Candles – A description of the Piper family celebration of Advent by Noel Piper
Treasuring God In Our Traditions – A book by Noel Piper on how to redeem family traditions to treasure God
Skipping Advent – An article about the history and beauty of the Advent celebration
Celebrating Advent With Kids – A mom’s practical advice for celebrating advent with kids and adults.