“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” according to the music blasting in the shopping mall.
This declaration of the wondrous time of year was followed by the insistence that “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
The commercial season that is called Christmas seems to be an ever-growing quest for something that never quite defines itself.
There is so much activity, such as parties and picnics, an extraordinary amount of food and drink, as well as the gift-giving.
Then, too, there is a focus on “family,” with much celebration with and of children, and sometimes a rather guilt-laden sense of regret about relationships through the year.
Is this really “the most wonderful time”?
The local church to which I belong always has a time to recognize what we call “Blue Christmas,” acknowledging that for some people all this hype and happiness is actually quite alienating.
There are two basic responses I would like to offer to all:
First, that this is not Christmas at all.
Christmas comes on Dec. 24, reaching into Christmas Day and the 12 days of the Christmas season (known as “Christmastide”).
Prior to Christmas is the season of Advent, which began last Sunday and extends to the beginning of Christmas.
Advent, in the church’s traditional calendar, is a time of waiting, a time of preparation and a time of reflection on where we have been and where we are going – and only then a time of expectation and celebration.
“The Lord is near.” That’s the message. The Lord is near, watch and pray.
So, against the background of the commercial hype, this is meant to be a time of quietness and wonder.
Yes, then it is truly meant to be a wonderful time – a time of wondering. There is much to wonder about.
In the ancient Jewish traditions, there were songs and prayers, which called out to God to relieve the people from oppression, hunger, injustice of many kinds.
“How long, O God, how long?” They wondered if there would ever be any relief – and if so, where would it come from?
Surely, this year, this Advent, we too may wonder.
When will there be any relief for those suffering in appalling injustice, such as the asylum-seekers abandoned by the Australian government on Manus Island?
When will there be relief for the Rohingya people, driven from their homeland in Myanmar into Bangladesh – as if that poor country has resources to support them?
And then, too, for the people of Yemen, the almost forgotten country whose people have been all but wiped out by sectarian religious violence?
This Advent, we might wonder, with and for them, “How long, O God, how long?”
Thinking more broadly, we might go back over this year almost past and realize that it is a wonder:
- That we have not come to even worse violence, given the provocations and threats from either side of the Pacific Ocean.
- That so many good people have continued to do so much good, in the face of growing poverty and compassion weariness.
- That almost out of the blue, it seems that Zimbabwe has been relieved of the dictator who has driven the economy into destitution and an exceptional proportion of his people into unemployment.
- That the earth continues to sustain, feed and nourish us in spite of how we have treated it in so many places.
All around us, there is surprising beauty, care, love and compassion. There is wonder. So much to wonder about – even if sometimes we wonder in despair or angst as well as in joy and delight. This can indeed be a wonder-filled time.
I am not sure that this should be the most wonderful time of the year, but if, in spite of what is called Christmas, we experience this wonder, then so be it.
Frank Rees is a Baptist pastor in Melbourne, Australia, and an associate professor in the University of Divinity. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, To Be Frank, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @frankrees.