Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
SMALL BOY: “Do you have any Advent?”
GROCERY CLERK: “I don’t think so–what is it?”
BOY: “I don’t know either, but my mom says we can’t have Christmas ’till we have Advent.”
Many people do not know the meaning and purpose of Advent. The little boy tried a grocery store. Most people spend much of Advent in department stores, but department stores don’t know about Advent either. Advent is the apprenticeship of the truly skilled celebrator of Christmas. It’s the practice, practice, practice before the big game. It is a dress rehearsal. It is the farm club where we get ready for the big league. It is the training camp that rookies must survive if they are ever going to make it where the “big boys” play. It is an opportunity to prepare spiritually before the siren calls of shopping, baking, buying presents and trees, addressing cards, decorating, and wrapping packages smash us on the rocks long before we reach the true goal of our journey.
Two “businesses” make the most preparation for Christmas. The first you may guess, but the second will likely be a surprise. The number one winner of the preparedness game is American commerce: the manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of toys, appliances, jewelry, snacks, seasonal eats and booze. Any retailer who doesn’t have the store ready for the Thanksgiving Friday invasion is a rotten general and a better fool than businessperson. The owner of a huge New York department store chain, who happened to be Jewish, was asked by a reporter of similar persuasion, “Does it ever bother you to deluge your store with Christmas decorations?” He replied, “Not at all, Santa Claus is my best customer every year!” America gets ready for Santa.
The other “business” that gets ready for a Christmas rush is the “business” of medicine. Medical and mental health professionals must prepare. Many hospitals have beds in the halls just before Christmas. Doctor’s offices are jammed to the point that patients swap germs and get even more depressed by the long wait, interfering with so much to do. Some people actually crack under the pressure. Others can’t stand the heat so they use the hospital to escape from the kitchen.
Advent is an opportunity to tune our instruments and practice our music of praise, to exercise the muscles of the Christian life and melt some of the fat from our flabby stewardship, to get all the batting practice we can before the big pitch of the sales force. Jesus said, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and the day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” He wasn’t talking about Christmas, but the words fit! Advent can help us to set some priorities–
1. Scrub your hearts before your kitchens and bathrooms.
2. Put Christ first in your life before you put His image in a manger scene.
3. Tell your kids Whose coming they celebrate before they start looking up the chimney.
4. Put your body in the pew before you put it in the store.
5. Put your mind on the mystery before it is drained with lesser drivel.
6. Place the Good News of great joy on top of all the advertising.
John the Baptist put it this most unpopular way, “Repent and do penance. Make straight the way of the Lord.” He knew how to prepare for Christmas–you start by straightening out your life. His is not the program of the merchandisers. It is the program of the Church. It is a program that can prepare you in such a way that the full meaning of the great day will come to you. If someone asks you what you’re getting for Christmas, tell them you are getting ready.
New Yorker magazine once published a striking cartoon, which, with characteristic humor, brings a smile by the force of sheer absurdity. At a game counter stands a solid, serious matron paying for her purchase. She notices a chessboard spread out and ready for play and asks, “How do you play it?” Imagine asking a store clerk to tell her in a minute how to play chess. This is not tiddlywinks. No one learns to play chess even passably without months of real study and effort. Some have spent a lifetime and are still learning. Chess is more like algebra or calculus than dominoes. Its mastery demands an expenditure of blood, sweat and tears. Well, at least sweat and tears.
There are many parallels–the Christian life is certainly one. You don’t learn it in the minute you’re converted, although many people seem to think they do. I know people who think they are chess players, too. Some of them won’t play against me…again. I do not fancy myself a chess player, even though I’ve spent hours at it over the years. I have played against some experts. When I do, I realize that I only play at chess. Christmas is another parallel. You don’t celebrate it in one day nor do you reap its grandeur without preparation and effort. Advent is the apprenticeship for Christmas.
Have you ever wondered how the great maestros of huge symphony orchestras know who messes up in a large section of similar instruments? Have you ever wondered how they single out the great musicians from the mediocre or the one to be fired from the mass who will stay? Zuben Mehta once said that he watched the eyes of the section that was in the midst of a difficult or exposed passage. The best musicians were looking at him, the poorer ones at the notes. Any musician good enough to sit with a philharmonic orchestra can sight read just about any notation. The best musicians practice in private so they can watch the conductor. We often speak of these musicians as gifted or blessed–they make it look so easy. The truth is that the very best practice and practice until the notes are no longer on the paper, but flow directly from the fingers, mouth and heart.
Can the music of life be played without similar preparation? Can the symphony of Christmas be played without the private practice of a proper Advent preparation? Obviously, I think not, but I am ruefully aware, even as I write these words, that half the people who read them will not darken the door of a church or open a Bible even once this entire Holy Season. Most will not worship God until Christmas Eve. Even then, many will come to see the kids and not the KID.
You can change all that! With God’s help you can change your most priceless possession–yourself! You can be swept up in the Spirit of this Holy Birthday to the point that all the other folderol will either fall into place or be put in its place. For you, the Christian Faith can be an essential part of life rather than a decoration that sits in a box except once a year.
What is even more amazing is that you can help make the same thing happen for someone else as well. Take someone with you to worship the King. Tell them the Good News about Jesus. Tell them how He was born…and why. Tell them how He lived…and why. Tell them what He did…and why. Tell them what He said…and why. Tell them how He died… and why. Tell them how He rose…and why.