Faith Column: Fast to Christmas
It seems as if the holidays come earlier each year. Christmas decorations appear in stores before Halloween, at least that’s what it looks like to me. (It may be that I’m just getting older.) I read this week that people are getting into the holiday season earlier this year due to COVID. It’s as if we need something to break the spell of 2020 – we need something to celebrate.
Thanksgiving is next Thursday, and it’s certain to be unlike any other year. Families will gather, to be sure – some limited, some perhaps not. Regardless, all of us are aware of what a tough year it’s been. We all feel the effects in one way or another, and we will gather around the table next week giving thanks for our blessings in spite of everything that’s happening around us. For some, it will be a bittersweet time, grieving over loved ones who have passed and struggles that are very real.
This season is one of preparation. Yes, we prepare for the festivities. We shop for gifts, we, decorate our homes and put lights up on our houses. We plan for meals and parties. But in the Christian world, we find ourselves in a season of preparation to celebrate the Coming of God into our world, into our history, our very lives. We prepare to celebrate the event by which our calendar is determined. Like it or not, we are in the year 2020, determined by the birth of Christ. Our culture, in an attempt to be politically correct, can change the abbreviations, changing B.C. (before Christ) to B.C.E. (before the Common Era), but regardless, the reference point remains the same – the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
For Christians, this is the pivotal event of human history, for we believe and proclaim that the Creator of the Universe became one of us that we might come to know Him. And so, for the majority of the Christian world, this is a time of preparation, not just for parties and presents, but to commemorate and celebrate the most earth-shattering thing that’s ever happened.
In the Orthodox Christian world, this season is known as the Nativity Fast. Among many Christians in the West, it’s known as Advent. It’s a time to focus intentionally on our relationship with God – to take stock. In the Orthodox tradition it’s a time of fasting, abstaining from certain foods in order that we might daily remember that our lives depend on God. We prepare for the great Feast of Christmas by disciplining ourselves to refrain from excess and luxurious foods in order that we might remember that we do not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God who became flesh and lived among us.
For we Orthodox Christians, it’s not about checking a box or fulfilling a duty. It’s about prayerfully remembering what we’re about to celebrate. God in His infinite love for each one of us, became a man, that we might become like He is. Christ came to make it possible for us to be in relationship with God, and so we intentionally turn our focus on Him as we prepare for Christmas.
I understand that this goes against the grain of a season that is characterized by consumerism and excess. In this season of parties and indulgence, it may seem odd that we focus on fasting and self-sacrifice.
Nevertheless, as the mad rush towards Christmas is upon us, I invite you to resist the pressures of the culture around us, and to pause, even if only for a moment, to contemplate what it means that God has forever joined Himself to us – to you. The true reference point of 2020 is not COVID, but the One who was born two thousand and twenty years ago.
Fr. David Henderson is priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 691 Green Street. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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