On the day after Halloween, one of my neighbors began stringing Christmas lights on his house. It was no surprise, because he put up Halloween decorations in mid-September. By November 10, his home and yard were illuminated every night by what seemed to be miles of blue lights, a gingerbread house, candy canes along his sidewalk, a six-foot tall inflatable snowman, and reindeer in the pampas grass. Oh – and a Nativity scene too. You know the version—the eight-pound six-ounce, blond hair, blue-eyed baby Jesus, beautifully dressed and glowing in the perfectly manicured hay. Surrounding him is the all-American family, complete with ornate robes. It all seemed too early, too commercial, and too plastic.
It is the "Clark Griswold" scenes like my neighbor's house that have caused many in the church to work for something different.—specifically, for something better during the advent season.
The very word "advent" essentially means the arrival of something. So, as we celebrate Christmas, we supposedly celebrate the arrival of God into human form. The Incarnation is a moment to savor. All of our presents and lights and parties ought to have a better meaning. But usually, they don't. So, in a bid to create a more relevant/helpful/meaningful advent season, the church of late has sought to delineate itself from the commercialization of our country's Christmas culture. Oddly enough, we have done so by simply offering Christianized versions of what they were already doing—Christmas dinners, Christmas plays, Christmas musicals, and Christmas events in every size and shape. But alas, we have done no better than my neighbor. The church has cluttered the advent season with our own set of lawn décor.
Sure, our event planning seems more spiritual than the guy who wants his house to be seen from outer space. And yes, our events are done so with the façade of telling people the ubiquitous "reason for the season." (Am I supposed to capitalize "reason"? I don't know any more.) But are we bringing anyone closer to understanding the gospel? I fear we are only adding more decorations onto the already crowded front lawn of culture.
But a reaction occurred. The already burgeoning movement among Christians cried out once more and said, "Enough!" A conscientious rebellion happened against the cluttered gospel. For some, they rebelled against the Living Christmas Trees, caroling, and shoebox stuffing. Many believers all over the place decided to simply give—and to give to causes where justice needed delivering by the Jesus who came once in the flesh and now lives in the church.
We are seeing a much-needed return to the simplicity of the Gospel and its power to bring transformation. The advent season needs no décor, whirlwind, or sales pitch. It needs simplicity. It needs a gospel simply proclaimed and the work of Jesus simply done.
As you and your church move into this advent season, allow me to make some suggestions toward simplicity that may just help present a season that is filled with more advent than whirlwind.
Be obvious. We have grown far too comfortable with the bait-and-switch mentality reserved for the lowest form of salesmanship. "Come for a relaxing evening of music." But we really mean, "Come for dinner so we can ambush you with something vaguely spiritual."
So far as I know, the church was not assigned any snipers or ninjas. Our ministry does not need camouflage. Our lives and our words throughout the year should plainly display the gospel.