December 1, 2020

iMonk Classic: Skip the Carping this Advent

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From December, 2006

NOTE: Michael Spencer had many friends with whom he regularly conversed at The Boar’s Head Tavern. Each year they run an Advent blog called, “Go to Bethlehem and See.” I encourage our IM readers to check it out. Today’s classic iMonk post is from the 2006 edition of that Advent blog.

• • •

I never heard about Advent growing up. Our church recognized Christmas, but anything else would have been too “catholic,” and we were fundamentalistic Southern Baptists. What I heard about Christmas was dependable preaching from the texts surrounding the birth of Jesus, the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for foreign missions, and a lot of negativity.

Negativity? Yes, there was plenty of negativity in the season of Joy. We heard a lot about how Christ had been “X-ed” out of Christmas. We heard of the evils of Christmas celebrations involving alcohol. We heard warnings about leaving Christ out of Christmas. We heard that most people had no idea what Christmas was about anymore. (Apparently things used to be better.) Eventually, we heard that if you stayed home from church for any kind of Christmas or New Year’s celebration, your salvation was probably questionable.

This eventually extended to Super Bowl Sunday night, but that’s another story.

The season of Advent- with all its traditions and customs- would have been a good idea in our church. We were intense about the meaning of Christmas, but not very interested in the kind of spiritual formation that would allow us to “keep” Christmas with our families and our children. It would have given us something to do besides complain.

Part of the Lottie Moon offering was a prayer guide for foreign missionaries. It’s still a deep part of my own spirituality too think about missions when I think about Christmas, and I owe that to those Lottie Moon prayer guides. Of course, along with the missions stories were daily scripture readings. Maybe someone suggested lighting a candle in there somewhere. It was close to Advent, but not quite there. It wouldn’t have been to hard to make the leap.

Evangelicals and their more conservative cousins have a tendency to go negative at Christmas. It’s understandable. The pagans took their holiday back and made it more pagan than ever, this time with our St. Nicholas, our wise men and our music. That probably deserves some “Bah! Humbugs” from the church, but if all we can come up with for the next 5 weeks is carping, we’re pretty pitiful.

Yes, the world has gotten into our treasure closet. But let’s not kick them out and yell at them to stay out of our decorations and music. Let’s ask them what they found. Let’s explain what it all means. Let’s connect the dots from Santa Claus to St. Nicholas to the Incarnation. Let’s invite them to sing along and, at the proper time, let’s pour some egg nog, tune up a “Gloria” and shine the light right in their eyes.

Our church had a “live” Nativity scene for several years. We had a big parking lot next to a busy street and that was a good place for such an event. Cars drove by, Eugene Ormandy played the big arrangements of the carols and we shivered in bathrobes. Hard to top it for a Christmas memory.

It was one of the few positive things we did that acknowledged the existence of the outside community. It was a way of saying, “You’re borrowing our incarnation and putting it right in the middle of this big nasty fallen world….which is what God did on Christmas. Did you know that?”

I remember the feeling of being exposed to the headlights of the world, standing there with the baby Jesus, outed as a Christian willing to shiver for 30 minutes in exchange for hot chocolate. (Well….Mary was pretty cute.)

Stay positive this Advent. Even the pagans like the calendars, the music and the candles. Let’s like it all so much that the joy of it overflows into the streets in the middle of the coldest nights. Put away the negativity and include yourself in all those regular folks that God loves enough to come up with this entire Christmas business.

Knowing what Christmas is all about doesn’t add ten points to your score. It just makes it all the more amazing.

(Reprinted from Go to Bethlehem and See.)


  1. I’d like to invite Internet Monk readers to submit anything Advent/Christmas related to the Advent Blog. Write me at kootenayrev (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll be glad to let you have the password. You can also email me a post and I’ll post it to the blog. Thank you.

    Richard Campeau (BHT fellow)

  2. So many of us identify with your growing-up years in a holiness church. We thought God really cared that we kept every jot and tittle of the law (plus the 613 regulations added by the inter-testamentary Pharisees and a few more from our church’s elder board).

    Relief to read again the confirmation of God-among-us. Isn’t he patient? Isn’t he kind? and doesn’t Christmas burst with the generosity of God in sending his son for every one of us rule-keepers and law breakers?

    I’ve really enjoyed this blog. Your adventures in faith and understanding continue to inspire and instruct. Thanks! And Merry Christmas.

  3. Richard Hershberger says

    This post seems out of date to me. I remember when “Remember the reason for the season” meant we should recall that it isn’t really about buying stuff and outdoing our neighbors with our outdoor decorations. This is essentially the entire message of the classic Charlie Brown Christmas This post fits right in with that theme. Nowadays, thanks to a decade of bogus cries about “the war on Christmas”, “Remember the reason for the season” is a demand that we explicitly tie commercialization and Christ together. This is not an improvement.

  4. How about this….can anyone else relate? Converting into a fundagelical faith with a Catholic background and then being dedicated to convert other Catholics or educate those about Catholicism. I knew some evangelicals who thought that Rome was ground zero for an international cult. Then while being in this fundagelical system starting to know a few people who didn’t grow up Catholic who make some references to “Advent”, ‘tradition”, ‘Holy Day”. etc… and there you are as a former Catholic, converted fundagelical doing backward flips that heresy is creeping into the “true faith”. Can anyone relate to that? Please tell me I was not the only one…..

  5. I remember back when I was an agnostic, many years ago to be admitted, finding Christmas season as one of the times of year when I was assaulted by this Christian thing and while that could not in and of itself convince me it probably helped lay the groundwork. Whenever people complain about how Christmas is really a pagan holiday and has been over commercialized (both of which are true). I remember that it has been and still is a time when you can hear songs about the Lord Jesus in otherwise secular venues. I think there was a great degree of wisdom in the original policy of Gregory the Great (I am Protestant, but I have great respect for the man) to replace the pagan holidays with Christian holidays. People naturally want to celebrate and it is better to celebrate the right thing. I am all for remembering Christ at Christmas, but complaining does not solve anything.

  6. Whenever I write Xmas on the whiteboard at my school, I reliably get a reaction from students, but I always explain that X is short for xpistos (christos). (Thanks R. C. Sproul for explaining that years ago.) So Christ has never been X-ed out of Xmas; he was always there.

    • And, people have tried to ‘x’ out the name of Jesus for over 2000 years and haven’t succeeded yet. I sometimes have to ask is your Jesus too feeble, weak and defenseless that we have to defend him to keep his name from being ‘x’d’ out? Will God’s Kingdom fall in ruin if some tired, overworked cashier at Walmart says “Happy Holidays” instead of ‘Merry Christmas?”

      No! The name of Jesus is the name above any name, and God’s Kingdom will have no end. Read Psalm 2.

      It’s what Linus had to admonish Charlie Brown about who was moaning about the same thing. “Charlie Brown, you are the only one who can take a wonderful time like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Lucy was right about you. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest!”

    • Josh in FW says

      There’s even a t-shirt:

  7. Two secular comic-book blogs have had “Advent” related events (like countdowns with a different comic book cover on each day). For me, though, it’s just one more of those weird Wiccan holidays, right there between Samhain and Candlemas.