Nostalgia - A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
Well, it’s that time. The time when the calendar year as the word knows it winds down and the Christian calendar year begins with Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming” or “visit". The season of Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. I was unaware of this until I started college. I came from a church tradition that never mentioned Advent. In fact, prior to my meeting Annette and coming into the Methodist church, I knew nothing of a liturgical calendar or “special seasons.” Sure, there was great emphasis on Christmas and Easter, but no paraments, no hanging of the greens, no emphasis on the four Sundays preceding Christmas. Today, seminaries do a much better job training and equipping pastors across ecumenical boundaries. As a result, Advent is better understood today; at least in a general sense. Still, God’s timing is perfect; and I realize the time and place I learned about Advent is one of the reasons Christmas is so special for me today. I will always appreciate how a “new awareness” of Advent brought my place in God’s economy into a new light.
What does that last sentence mean? It means an awareness of Advent gave me a different perspective on Christmas; a new perspective on what it means to have a savior both corporately and personally. It helped me put “things” together as a whole. At the very least, it reminded me that God had and has a plan. A plan for you, for me and for our church. A plan for this lost world. And no matter how crazy and hopeless things might sometimes seem, the season of Advent can reorient us and put us back on track with that plan; His plan. And for me? By the time Advent comes into view, I almost always need that reorientation. I need to take stock and refocus. And I need to buckle down and remember what Christmas is and sometimes most importantly, what Christmas is not. For me, this often involves a bit of nostalgia.
You see, although the knowledge of a liturgical Advent season was absent, I was fortunate enough growing up as a child that family and church instilled a sense of wonder for the reality of Christmas beyond gifts and Santa. It’s hard to explain, but again I use the word wonder. I can give you a few synonyms. My memories are of being in awe; of having a sense of expectation (beyond toys). It was marvelous, and it was often magical. Looking back, I wonder if some of what I felt was not because God placed people around me who infected me with the wonder of the season. One of those people was my Great Uncle Uncle Bill loved Christmas. He never told me that in words, but I sensed it. He loved the preparation. He loved the tree, the trimming, the food, the family. He especially loved giving gifts. And at some point, every Christmas he would put on Christmas music and we would sit and look at the tree for what seemed like hours. One thing is for sure, it was infectious. I believe uncle Bill’s love of Christmas infected a great portion of our family. He never preached. He never pushed. But his joy was evident. That’s a family memory.
From church, I remember a Christmas eve service; the sanctuary dark except for scattered candles, the hush of reverence and then the song O Holy night was sung by Katherine Baird. It still stands as my favorite childhood memory of music in the church. The Holy Spirit moved that night. I can’t adequately describe what I felt, but my hair stood up and I knew that God was real, that my understanding of Christmas true meaning was limited and yet the sense of awe, of wonder and of peace enveloped me. That memory, when allowed remains as fresh today as it did forty-eight years ago. Wow! I hope you too have some of those memories. I also hope you desire to rediscover them this Advent.
This Advent, I pray we can be nostalgic for those memories that heighten our desire to rediscover and give Christmas it’s due. I desire those memories anew for myself and for my family. I pray them for you too. I pray them for our church. Moreover, I pray the people we encounter will sense our joy; and I pray that somehow the power of the Holy spirit will envelop them with an awareness of the reality that God came down at Christmas. That he left Heaven’s best to come to this world to be the Savior of us all!
Annette and I pray you have an enlightened Advent and a Merry Christmas!