Hallmark. What would we do without Hallmark? If I were writing one of Jimmy Fallon’s “thank you notes,” I might say “Thank you, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, for making my decorations look like a K-Mart blue light special.” I am convinced that there is one story told a thousand ways through these movies. Just about every movie begins with an aerial view of a small country town covered in a blanket of snow. There is a city person who returns or ends up in this small town and gets the Christmas spirit. He or she also meets up with the “love of their life” and the story is of their coming together only to be torn apart by some misunderstanding with about fifteen minutes of the movie left. Somehow, a “Christmas miracle” brings them back together for a kiss and the movie is over.
Christmas has been Hallmarkized! By this I mean that not only has consumerism usurped Advent, but Christmas has become sentimentalized by all of the movies and songs that idealize the holiday in our minds and then we end up subconsciously expecting what we see and experience in the movies and through the songs to be our experience of Christmas. The true understanding and meaning of Advent and Christmas have been replaced by a false sense of hope and peace.
In the first place, Advent is completely skipped over by our society. Christmas begins before Halloween anymore. Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting. Not for Santa to bring presents, but for the Christ to come. We are an Advent people. We wait with great hope and anticipation for the coming of Christ, not only as we prepare to remember his coming as a baby in a manger, but more importantly his coming again. The Advent season helps us to prepare for this coming. Not in decorating, shopping and cooking, but in prayer, devotion and worship. All the candles on the Advent wreath don’t get lit at once, but slowly, one at a time, as the day of Christ’s coming draws nearer. Christmas songs and the like will have their time come December 25th and for twelve days after, but now is a time for a different kind of preparation. A preparation of the heart for the time Christ shall return.
Secondly, Christmas is treated as a romanticized time of year. Everything is supposed to be jolly and merry as if it were all about our happiness and our feelings. If something goes wrong at Christmas time, somehow Christmas just isn’t the same – think “A Christmas Carol.” Then we try to shape our lives around how we are supposed to feel at this time of year and forget that it is about God and not about us.
God chose to break into our lives, not as a powerful “Genie” or “Wizard of Oz” kind of god that grants our every wish and makes us happy, but as a little, innocent, vulnerable baby. Not in a grand hotel did he come, but in a stable. Advent anticipates the Emmanuel, God with us; Jesus, our salvation. Our happiness does not come in some fairytale ending of a movie, or some romantic Bing Crosby song, but in the coming of the Christ child, the inbreaking of God into our humanity so that we might be saved through him. Christmas is merry and jolly and joyful and triumphant when, and only when, we honor this time of year with our worship and praise, for he is our true hope and our peace.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we have to abandon our traditions and our participation in our culture of Christmas. The sentiments are nice and the movies are entertaining and the decorations are beautiful. It truly is a wonderful time of the year. But what God chose to do through Mary and Joseph in an obscure town called Bethlehem is what really deserves our attention. In this you will find a happiness the stores just can’t provide.