(Photo credit: Josh Boot on Unsplash)

A new approach to Advent and Christmas

By the Rev. Margaret Marcuson

I was in the drugstore before Halloween, and I saw Christmas items for sale. My immediate response was to roll my eyes and ask myself, “How can they be pushing the date earlier and earlier?” I know many church people bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, and it’s true our culture puts far more emphasis on Santa than on Jesus’ birth.

However, instead of this automatic reaction, I suggest two different approaches this season: first, celebrating, instead of complaining, and, second, compassion, instead of criticism.

Celebrating, instead of complaining

A few years ago, I gave up complaining. Well, I have to be honest; I didn’t give it up 100 percent. However, I complain a lot less, and I find I’m noticeably happier day to day. I’m applying this to the season of Advent and Christmas this year. Celebrating doesn’t mean you must throw a party. It simply means you stop and appreciate what you have.

Giving up complaining means you catch yourself in a complaining thought before it comes out of your mouth. (Bonus points if you stop thinking complaints. I’m not there yet.) Here are some ways you might try it this season:

  • Celebrate that you have so many people you love, rather than complaining about the gifts we all have to buy.
  • Celebrate the joy of worship this season, rather than complaining about all the demands of the holiday season.
  • Celebrate the creativity you can exercise, rather than complaining about limited gift budgets.
  • Celebrate the many options we have for gifts in our society, rather than complaining about the consumer culture.
  • Celebrate that people want to be generous to their families, rather than complaining about materialism.

You get the idea.

Compassion, instead of criticism

You may not be a verbally critical person. But, like complaints, we can have a lot of critical thoughts. I’m working toward a greater softness of heart toward people who face all kinds of challenges, including making a living. In my own heart and in our culture, there’s such a rush to judgment, and assuming people are acting in bad faith. I don’t think that helps us move forward, individually or collectively.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Show compassion toward those who make much of their living from money spent in this season, rather than criticizing how businesses overemphasize the material side of Christmas.
  • Show compassion toward the families who are doing their best to show love to their children, rather than criticizing how much people spend.
  • Show compassion toward the people in our congregation who are trying to figure out the holiday season, rather than criticizing people who don’t show up to our long-planned events.
  • Show compassion to our own extended families with all their quirks and challenges, rather than criticizing family members to their faces or to other family members.

In addition, this year, I’m beginning new practices of prayer to help reinforce these approaches:

  • I want to pray for the people who are trying to make a living by selling gifts to people.
  • I want to pray for the people who are grieving or alone.
  • I want to pray for parents who are struggling with the extra demands of this season on top of killer schedules, and who don’t want to disappoint their children.
  • I want to pray for the families around me — those I know and those I don’t know — as they gather together.

Finally, I want to pray for our churches as they seek to help people move beyond the focus on busyness and gifts, and to truly experience Advent and Christmas.

The Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.