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5 Reasons to Celebrate Advent

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In my memory exists an idyllic wintry scene from my girlhood. Snow-covered hills. Frosted windowpanes. And the candles of the Advent wreath illuminating our small, wood-paneled dining room as my father intoned: “We await a Savior/The Lord Jesus Christ/Who will reshape the body of our lowliness/After the shape of the body of His splendor.” I was as Santa-obsessed as any other kid. But during December, our Sunday evening tradition of prayer and song kept my desire for Barbie dolls in check. It was a reminder that Christmas wasn’t here yet. So now, whenever I hear Christians complaining about the “war on Christmas” or deriding secular culture for ignoring the “reason for the season,” I wonder which season they think we’re in. It may come as a surprise to some believers, but we’ve just entered the season of Advent, not Christmas. Christians who want to make Jesus the star attraction should begin at home — by celebrating Advent. Here’s why: 1. Because it’s liturgically correct. The Christmas season doesn’t actually begin until December 25. The (roughly) four weeks leading up to Christmas day are meant for the solemn observance of Advent. Ok, so not all Christians follow the liturgical calendar. But, you don’t have to be a Catholic or an Episcopalian or a Lutheran to see the value of a ritual that reminds believers that this sacred time is meant for preparing spiritually for the birth of their savior. 2. Because these are our darkest days. It’s not only that we have less actual daylight — darkness of a different sort can pervade our lives this time of year. We have a nagging sense that, amid the decorating and shopping and eggnog sipping, we are emptier than ever. Crass consumerism and forced cheer can do that to a soul. But, the tiny flames of the Advent candles can pull us back from the brink and give us a little perspective. 3. Because “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” This is the hymn most often sung during an Advent ceremony — and it’s a gorgeously haunting melody whose beautiful E-minor chords can help Christians focus on what they’re supposed to be yearning for this time of year: hope and peace and light. And, it’s even cooler when you sing it in Latin. That can’t be said for “White Christmas” (no disrespect to Bing). 4. Because patience, grasshopper. Anticipation is good for us. A little self-deprivation — or mere restraint — is healthy. You don’t party like it’s 1999 during Lent, do you? No. Lent is a time of reflection and fasting and preparation. You celebrate the resurrection on Easter, not before. So, don’t rush Jesus’ birth, either. (Remember: Mary had to wait a lot longer.) 5. Because it’s simple, yet meaningful. If you have children, this is one of the simplest and best gifts you can give to them. It doesn’t take much to assemble four candles and a bit of greenery and pull some devotional material off the Web. (Some might find pastor John Piper’s Advent devotional or Helen McLoughlin’s guide of Family Advent Customs useful.) No matter how you do it, your kids will remember that special time you set aside every Sunday to light the candles, to pray and sing, to slow down for ritual. And — gasp — they may actually appreciate the real reason for the season.