by Shirley Pierson

Christmas and the four week period leading up to it, known as Advent (the coming, or the arrival), have been a part of the Christian celebration and tradition since 354 A.D. The early church fathers needed something to discourage the pagan Roman world from the practice of idolatry, which was prevalent at that time of year. For that reason, Advent leading up to the birth of Christ was added to the Church's liturgical calendar. I can see Mary, the mother of our Lord in her small home late at night with only a small flickering candle preparing cloths for her new baby to wear. She also had to get ready for the hard journey to Bethlehem. Mary must have spent many hours preparing herself for his birth in prayer and meditation.

For nearly 1700 years, Christians have prepared themselves by prayer, fasting, visiting the sick, abstention from alcohol, and refusing meat. Since the Middle Ages, homes have been cleaned and polished and decorations hung. The furniture was waxed, and carpets and drapes were decorations hung. The furniture was waxed, and carpets and drapes were beaten and hung outside. Delicate pastries were locked away until the celebration began. Children hung around the kitchen tempted by the sweet smells, hoping to receive a small crumb. Excitement was everywhere. A feeling of expectation grew and grew until it was almost too much to bear. A wondrous event was about to take place. A great Lord was coming.

Today, in spite of all that's wrong with Christmas, millions of people keep many of the old traditions that have bound families together for centuries. The smell of baking continues to fill the kitchen. Homes are diligently cleaned and prepared. Decorations are hung everywhere, and the laughter of children fills the air. Hospitality is extended like no other time of year. The sick and shut in are remembered, poor children are treated to new clothes and toys, families come home to celebrate and gifts are exchanged. Christmas cards are sent and received from people we havenít thought of since the previous Christmas season.

Tragically, there are many abuses and much greed during this season. DUI's increase, the suicide rate goes up, domestic violence increases and all kinds of crimes increase. Hundreds of people stand outside of Wal-Mart before it opens and push and shove to get inside for the best bargains. The list of abuses could go on and on. Should we, as Christians, give up on Advent and Christmas? Personally, I believe that much of what we do during Advent is not spiritual but simply secular humanism. Isn't that reason enough? But I don't think it should be thrown out of the Church entirely. There certainly should be some restraints and discipline and a return to the vision of what it means to be a Christian.

We could make the Advent season a time for increased witnessing to family and neighbors. In the decorating of church and home may we put the emphasis on Christ. Think what it would be like if we stopped singing Christmas carols. Millions of people, who never step inside a church, are hearing the Gospel in Christmas carols. Little children, who hear the story of the birth of baby Jesus as it is told in Sunday School, share it with their families and friends. Every child loves the story of baby Jesus born in a manger. There are beautiful books to read on this subject to your children and grandchildren.

Ask your children if they understand about the Bethlehem star and what it means. Light, in the person of the baby Jesus, came into the darkness of this world and still shows the way today. Satan does not want Advent and the true meaning of the Christmas message shared. Instead, he works his wiles encouraging greed, pleasure, perversion, cynicism, and over indulgence into the minds and hearts of people to drown out the message that "Emmanuel" or "God with us" has come.

But be assured brothers and sisters, Christ has triumphed over him. Jesus came once as a baby but he is coming soon as the King of Kings and Lords of Lords.