Why do we create a drive-through Christmas?
“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me” … the voice of Tony Bennett weaves its magic throughout the shopping mall as last-minute shoppers scurry from store to store. Advertisements promise just the right gifts at just the right price, allowing us to give like Santa and save like Scrooge.
How Christmas celebrations have changed. Our McWorld of drive-through expectations has replaced the patient waiting that’s followed by a truly heartfelt, joyous celebration. The idolatry of instant gratification has taken over.
The ancient Western church devised a cycle for celebrating Christ’s incarnation. At the center was Advent, the 20-plus days beginning with the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. By fasting and abstaining from public festivities, Christians were to prepare for the holy day by being drawn into the sense of longing for Messiah’s coming, felt by generations of God’s faithful, Old Testament people.
That heightened sense of anticipation would, in turn, give way to overwhelming joy and festive celebration when Christmas Day came. The celebration that began Christmas Day would continue for 12 days, climaxing with Epiphany on Jan. 6, remembering the visit of the Magi.
As members of this fast-food generation, we have become so eager to get to Christmas that we bypass Advent. Or we turn Advent into a pep rally for Christmas. While previous generations combined fasting with godly reflection and true repentance for Advent, we cram as many Christmas activities and festivities into December as we can endure. Christmas has displaced Advent on our calendars.
But our bypassing Advent runs deeper. It alters our attitude to the story of Jesus’ birth. Knowing the end of the story so well, we want to rush through the long, arduous, but crucial, necessary details of how God prepared His people for the coming of His Son. Instead of entering into a sense of expectation at the foundation of Christ’s entrance into the plot line of human history, we jump to the glorious climax. We trade the plaintive “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” for the robust “Joy to the World.” In short, we get our Christmas early, and create a “drive-through Christmas!”
The irony of our situation is that, in our rush toward Christmas, we end up lopping off the celebration. Once Dec. 25 is past, we are so done with Christmas. We spend the Canadian Boxing Day on the 26th running our unwanted, reboxed gifts to the stores to buy boxes of sale items that draw crowds for one of the biggest shopping days of the year.
Like the song says, we have 12 days of Christmas. But, in our impatience born from the lure of greed and instant gratification, we’re through with Christmas except in church services, where the sounds of Christmas are heard until Jan. 6.
We may have avoided stressful waiting and the cry of Advent expectation. But it truly prevents us from the exuberant joy of singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” with the angels. For we cannot really sing “Joy to the World” unless we have thoroughly rehearsed “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”