Happy New Year!!

The new year has arrived! No, I am not a little early in my declaration, neither am I overly eager for January 1st to arrive. Rather, I am speaking of Advent, the season of the liturgical calendar when Xians prepare themselves for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Beginning December 2nd, many Xians, all over the world, incorporated into their worship services the lighting of the first of five advent candles, and every week they will light an additional candle until Christmas eve when the largest candle, the Christ candle, will be lit as a symbol of light coming into the world.

The idea of light coming into darkness is, however, not the essence of the Christmas celebration. Instead, the significance of Christmas is provocatively expressed in the words of Saint Athanasius when he said, “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.” The idea here is that God assumed our nature so that we could become partakers of the divine nature. It is this act of union that provides the foundation of our salvation, which is personally consummated as we live by faith. In saying all this, however, I diverge, as the season of Christmas is not yet upon us. Instead, it is Advent, a time of preparation, a time when Christians prepare themselves to receive more deeply what God most earnestly desires to give: his very self.

Advent is the first season of the liturgical year, which is how Christians throughout the ages have divided time to orient themselves upon the story of Christ’s life. Within this narrative, Advent functions in a way that is similar to the ministry of John the Baptist, who by his own words was called to prepare the way of the Lord. In this manner, we use this time to prepare our own hearts through prayer, fasting, and celebrations. Advent can also be seen as similar to that period of time when Mary first consented to being overshadowed by the Spirit of God, and the time that she gave birth to the Son of God. In this fashion, Advent is a time of gestation where we attend to our relationship with God and thereby attend to the divine life that is hidden within, so that we can grow and develop, and eventually manifest the grace that is within us.

For modern Christians, the challenge of Advent is that culturally it competes with the secular calendar which places the Christmas season between the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) and Christmas day, and thereby places this season squarely on the foundation of consumerism. In making this critique I have to confess that I like secular Christmas, I like Jingle Bells playing on the radio, and Christmas trees in shopping malls. I also like to buy stuff, both stuff for myself and stuff for others, which is to say that I like being a consumer. However, I also know that these things can be a distraction, and that what I like does not always align with what I truly, most deeply need. Consequently, being aware of this tension, I am currently considering how I am going to make use of this time of preparation and gestation, so that when Christmas comes I will be ready to embrace it.

As I work through the above challenge in the season ahead, I am thinking that perhaps I can use my consumeristic instincts for something more than just buying things online or in a mall. I am thinking that I can dissect my drive to consume and underneath it identify what I am most desperately seeking. I am seeking something that is akin to the rush I get when I finally open a long held gift to discover what is inside, something akin to the awe I feel when I look at the new lights of Christmas, or the joy I feel when unencumbered by the demands of my normal schedule I can gather with family and friends to enjoy a good meal. All of these things point to a deeper reality, a reality that offers discovery, awe, and connection. These are the gifts of Christmas, freely given through a baby in a manger, and given anew by faith, which allows the life of that baby to grow in me as well.

If by faith I can genuinely enter into this mystery of Christ becoming one of us and becoming within us, it truly will be a happy new year.

So, if you celebrate Christmas, how do you do so? How do you prepare yourself to embrace the reality that God is with us, has become one of us, is within us?

5 Responses to “Happy New Year!!”

  1. arthur  


    is your family celebrating advent at all? we have found it deeply meaningful for us here. very good way to keep proper perspective and generally family/children friendly! we have really come to appreciate the church calendar and follow advent and lent pretty regularly.

  2. Anthony Velez  

    Arthur – Yes we do celebrate Advent, both in Church through a liturgy that is appropriate to this season, and at home through an evening celebration that includes lighting candles on our own Advent wreath, recitation of written prayers, a reading from the Scriptures, singing a song, and a closing prayer. In previous years we have read Advent stories, and used other kinds of liturgies adapted for home. Overall, it is has been helpful in keeping our hearts and minds in the right place, but I think what I strive for is a full on embrace of the scandal and mystery of Christmas. I mean, the fact that God became human should throttle us to our bones, but I often feel I am just scratching this surface of this mystery.

  3. Roger Green  

    For some reason, I think the understanding that it’s not even Christmastime won’t assuage those who believe that the war against Christmas is being waged.

    In any case, one of our church choir’s most important musical tradition is always in Advent (the other is Good Friday). We’ve been reading something called ADVENT-ure at home.

    This will be our first Christmas at home in years. Usually we go to my in-laws, or last year, to my mother’s. So we’re still figuring out our tradition.

  4. Simon Jones  

    Wait a second, you mean Christmas is a religious festival?

  5. Anthony Velez  

    LOL! You’re clever Simon.