Why I Quit Celebrating Christmas (The Modern Way): Advent Wreaths and Christmas Trees

After years of celebrating Christmas on the fast track of modern culture that always made me feel busy beforehand and let down afterward, I was determined to find a more meaningful way to observe the season.

As a Christian, I was caught up like everyone else in the glitter and glow of the holidays that pushed the real meaning further from the center with each passing year. I was delighted to finally find the answer in the past--in a time without malls, TV, or glitz.

The older Christmastide tradition is observed in the following ways:

Advent: Begins the fourth Sunday prior to December 25

The Feast of St. Nicholas: December 6

The Feast of the Nativity: (sunset December 24 to sunset December 25)

The Twelve Days of Christmas (sunset December 25 to sunset January 6)

The Feast of Epiphany: January 6 (celebrates the arrival of the Gentile Magi to worship)

 The season of Advent ("coming")-- four weeks prior to the observance of Christ's birth--is a time of  spiritual preparation.

A new candle is lit each week around  a special wreath that focuses on a devotional message shared in homes and churches:

Week 1: The promise and fulfillment of the Messiah's first coming to earth as humanity's Sacrifice and Servant to reconcile us to God

The Good News: God keeps His promises!

Week 2: The promise of Christ's final coming as King and Judge to remove every trace of the tragic consequences of sin as His Kingdom manifests world-wide

The Good News: Flawless justice will right every wrong in the end!

Week 3: The joy of knowing Jesus as your personal Savior in life
and death...a God who will not only return one day in glory, but a Lord who comes quietly everyday for His own

The Good News: I do not fear either the trials of life nor the sting of death, for I have been placed securely in Christ--sealed unto unconditional acceptance--now and forever.

Week 4: An opportunity to invite Christ to come into our hearts and homes afresh so that the miracle of the Incarnation does not pass by and leave us unchanged

The Good News: I can renew my relationship with Jesus!

Although gifts have been meticulously wrapped and holiday menus carefully planned, the question remains: this year, how well have I prepared for the Advent (coming) of Christ?

Yes, Christ first came to earth as a babe in a manger long ago. But He will come again as the earth's King and Judge. Have I prepared for that day? How does knowing this truth help me steward my life and witness before others?

While Christ will return visibly to earth, individuals pass into their chosen eternity every day. Am I prepared  for the end of my personal time? Are there any unsaid words, deeds, or reconciliations that must be addressed?

At the end of human history, Christ will weigh all motives and deeds in a perfect scale of justice. Do I trust Him to right all wrongs, even though I may not witness it in my lifetime?

Realizing that even for the Christian, there will be an accounting of our earthly life; and what endures the testing of honesty will be our final gift to Jesus, how well do I cooperate with the Holy Spirit unto spiritual growth and holiness?

What is the condition of my heart where Christ dwells now by the Holy Spirit? Is it cluttered with useless and broken things that block the light?  Is God crowded in there...somewhere?

A good time to toss out the junk is before another Christmas comes and goes, and you find yourself unchanged. That's the purpose of Advent. You light a candle and take moments each day during one of the busiest seasons of the year to pray.

The candle signifies willing introspection...a welcoming of the Lord into the nooks and crannies of your life that have been neglected this past year, and an invitation for Him to sweep them clean;  then, fill with His Light.

I know many of you have already decorated your tree or are in the throes of getting it up so you can enjoy its beauty before Christmas. No doubt, you will probably take it down the day after Christmas or before the New Year arrives.( As a child I heard that leaving a tree up after New Year's Day was bad luck!)

In earlier times, Christians did not bring a tree indoors until the Feast of the Nativity, which began on the evening of the 24th! Homes were already decorated with greenery, but the family waited to decorate and light the tree on that night to symbolize "lighting the way" for the Christ Child.

Although I bring in a tree and decorate it throughout Advent, I wait until the 24th to light it. For me, it's a tangible demonstration of welcoming  the Holy Family to my home where there is always room for Christ's presence and growing influence. (He remained in Bethlehem for approximately two years prior to fleeing to Egypt).

The controversy among some Christian denominations regarding a holiday tree seems to center on one portion of Scripture taken out of context: (Jeremiah 10:1-5)

"Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:

Thus saith the LORD, 'Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go.

Be not afraid of them
; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good'."

The entire chapter clearly addresses idolatry and the making of wooden idols to worship.

If Christians want to take the above Scripture at face value by not bringing any decorated "trees" inside, then what are we to do about wedding ceremonies that have ornamental trees, often seen with bows and ribbons? What about funeral wreaths?

It all goes back to the motive in one's heart. For instance, although many seek guidance from the stars, sailors use the stars to navigate as a gift from God--not paying homage to the creature, but the Creator!

We even have written evidence from early church history that the evergreen tree was used to teach new converts about the Trinity before 500 A.D. Therefore, whether it's at weddings, funerals or Christmas,  we take what God has created and use it the way He intended--to His glory and praise.

Therefore, the beginning of the Feast of the Nativity (or as it has come to be known as Christmas Eve) is a time of great anticipation as the tree is lit, and family and friends gather for a meal before heading out to services. The tree traditionally remains up until the end of the Feast of Epiphany (Jan. 6).

You see, years ago the Church did not recognize the Christmas season as officially beginning until the evening of December 25th, or as the Feast of the Nativity drew to a close. Christmas then lasted for twelve days (sunset to sunset); hence, the Twelve Days OF (not after) Christmas!

While Advent was a serious time of personal preparation and the Feast of the Nativity was a holy day of worship, the Twelve Days of Christmas were full of laughter, presents, feasting and fun for Christians!

People today are overfed, over-indulged, and too tired to do anything the evening of December 25th; but in the earlier days, dusk signaled that the festivities were just beginning! God had received His "first fruits" of worship, and what remained was not one but TWELVE days to celebrate the joyous reality of "God with Us"!

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