Lighting Advent candles is just one activity of our preparation for the birth of Christ. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Luke Stocking: Advertisers offer lesson in Advent preparation

  • December 12, 2020

Some years ago, our priest opened his Advent sermon with some observations about how early our Western society begins to market Christmas to us.

I thought his message was going to be along the lines of the common complaint against the practice (often even shared by non-believers). But it was not. Instead, he pondered how the marketing minds behind such Christmas campaigns take preparation seriously. He observed that they take preparation for Christmas so seriously that they begin preparing for it even earlier than we do as Christians! Why do they do this? Because those preparations are worth billions of dollars! He saw in this phenomenon a particular challenge which he imparted to us — take preparation for Christmas as seriously as they do.

Clearly, he did not mean that we should enthusiastically crank up Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” and start buying presents and decorations before we have lit the first Advent candle. He meant that we should feel like we are preparing for something important in the same way that they do. Indeed, what we are preparing for is an occasion even more important than all the money in the world — the coming of a child born into the poverty of a manger who changed the course of history and brought with him an eternal offer of salvation.

Advent for me is a preparation for communion — the moment when God enters into full communion with His creation by becoming a human child. This is a most amazing miracle worthy of choirs of angels! We are invited to ponder these things just as Mary did (Luke 2:19).

The advent that the priests of the market economy invite us into is not about preparing for the miracle of Emmanuel, “God is with us.” It is about preparing us for an increasingly generic “holiday” through the exchange and consumption of consumer goods that is worth billions of dollars.

The consumer holiday ends on Boxing Day, Dec. 26, because its aims have been fulfilled — the money has been spent. The “holiday” machine must now turn its eyes towards the next thing for us to consume — champagne, party hats and anything that can be purchased to fulfil our New Year’s resolutions.

But Dec. 25 is just the start of the celebration for those who follow Jesus. Most Roman Catholics do not realize that the Christmas season continues for us until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in January. At my former parish of St. Casimir’s, we sang Kolędy (Christmas carols) at Mass even past then!

What does it mean to be as serious about preparing for the coming of the Christ child as the advertisers are who prepare for the coming of Santa Claus? What lessons can we learn from them? First, we can dedicate time to our preparation. Advertisers spend hours devising plans for when to launch their campaigns and what messages will resonate best with consumers. Consumers spend hours running around from shop to shop. Much time is spent preparing for the consumerism of Christmas.

We can dedicate an equal amount of time to preparing for communion, for the coming of God. This does not only have to mean prayer and spiritual reflection. It can be anything that promotes communion — that brings us close to others. My wife and I participate in the (some say dying) tradition of exchanging Christmas cards. As close as possible to the first Sunday of Advent, we open a bottle of port, light the Advent candle and fill cards with Christmas greetings that we send to family and friends. It takes time. It is a time that we savour.

The aim of our preparations for Christmas is to allow ourselves to be changed by a God who could take the form of a baby. The more seriously we prepare for it, the more transformed we become. And what does that transformation look like?

One answer comes to us in the form of a Christmas reflection by Howard Thurman who said,
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”

If we prepare for the arrival of God in the world with the same level of seriousness as those who get the Christmas music going before Advent, then the arrival of Christmas cannot help but lead us into this work.

Instead of leaving us with an excess of waste and quickly forgotten trinkets, it leaves us ready to grow with the child Jesus in the work of the Gospel.

(Stocking is is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace.)

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