Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
Today marks the first Sunday in Advent - a time of waiting, preparation, and seeking the light in the darkness. As our secular culture seems to start Christmas earlier and earlier each year, Advent tends to get overlooked by many. The "war on Christmas" some people want to claim exists would be more accurately characterized as a war on Advent. It makes sense when you think about it - Advent requires patience and delayed gratification, all things we seem to be getting worse at as a people.
I'm fairly guilty of this myself - I've been known to put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving and this year I started listening to Christmas music the day after Halloween. And yet, I like to think I hold in tension the waiting of Advent, as well as the early celebration of things to come with twinkle lights and festive music. For me, I can reframe the trappings of Christmas as mere signs of what is to come. Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree - when the leaves are sprouting you know that summer is near. And yet no one would claim that the leaves of the fig tree are summer.
Likewise, the lights, decorations and music all herald that Christmas is near - but they aren't Christmas itself. We can bask in the glow of the season and still know that we are waiting for Christmas. We can trim the tree and deck the halls and still know that we are waiting for Christmas. And yes, I even think we can sing the hymns we know and love and still know that we are waiting for Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation for the Christ child - to welcome him into our hearts, our souls, and our minds. As long as that idea doesn't get lost in everything else, I say the more the merrier when it comes to seasonal festivities.
So as you prepare to enter what is known for many as the busiest time of the year, consider your focus in everything you do. Keep Christ at the heart and you can't go wrong, no matter how else you celebrate.
God of all seasons, help us navigate the chaos of this time of year with Christ at our center. May we carry the light of Christ within ourselves and let it shine in the darkness. Amen.