My parents made Christmas a special and festive time of the year for my sisters and me. However, the Christmas season was fairly short compared to what I experience as a pastor. Often our tree would not go up till mid December and it was a festive time. Dad would take us to the Georgia Farmer’s Market and we would look for that perfect Christmas tree. Once we had decided, he would dicker with the tree farmer about the price. My mother would be busy baking cakes and breads and decorating our home. My dad even had two special cakes he baked every year for our family; a Japanese fruit cake and an orange slice cake. Every year the same three red flashing bells would go on our front door, the same three Christmas albums (played at 33rpm), the same recipes and oh the smells of my mother’s kitchen! Add a little Christmas pageant at our church with a potluck following. Then over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house we go. The 57 Chevrolet knew the way to carry the sleigh. And as quick as a flash Christmas had come and gone.
As a pastor, I soon discovered that Christmas could become very laborious for us and our congregation if I weren’t careful. Soon Becky and I were inundated with speaking/singing at dinners, parties, class dinners and parties, rehearsing for musicals and plays, organizing shopping trips for the various groups in our churches, besides the preparations for our family Christmas. The planning would begin in September and the plan was carried out from Thanksgiving to the Sunday before Christmas. After Christmas we would breathe a sigh of relief. This wasn’t the simple Christmases we had grown up with. We discovered that we weren’t the only ones who were being burned out for this beautiful and holy time of the year.
Then when our children were small, we discovered Advent, a Christian season that would bring great joy to our family’s Christmas. At first the emphasis on fasting, repentance, and soul searching as we prepared for the celebration of Christmas seemed foreign to us. It was depressing to say the least. And fasting during this time of the year. No wonder so many people find it difficult and pretty much left untried.
Advent before Christmas compares to Lent before Easter. It is a time of reminding ourselves why we needed Jesus to save us from our sins. It is a time of searching our hearts and changing our course where we have drifted from our passionate pursuit of the Savior. It is a time of reading Scripture with our families and helping our children long for the Savior as much as they long for the gifts beneath our trees. We consider who can we help and how best to help them. It’s easy to give cash but to enter into someone’s world the way Jesus (Immanuel) entered ours to be with us was what we felt called to do.
Christmas is still a very busy time of the year for Becky and me. Observing Advent for the last twenty years rescued Christmas for us from the busy and exhausting rigor that our culture has made it, in order to get us shop and dine. I anticipate that wonderful feeling that sweeps over me on Christmas Eve when following the beautiful celebration of the birth of our Savior on Christmas Eve at Woodland I go home to be with my family.