Early last October, acting on a tip from John Laney, I drove over to the Asheville Mall after work one day to take advantage of a sale on men’s wear at Belk. The men’s wear section is on the second floor so I hopped on the escalator and just as I got off I came essentially nose-to-nose with something I did not expect: a small toy reindeer. The little stuffed animal was standing next to a big artificial pine tree, which was decorated with a profusion of fake red berries and synthetic pine cones, with a few miniature Santa Clause ornaments thrown in just for . . . fun? The price tag on the tree bore a cheery message, promising buyers a “Cozy Christmas.” On the other side of the tree stood a display of red and white checkered letters, big enough to stand on a mantle, that spelled out: JOY.
The experience forced me to admit something I was not aware of, namely, that I appear to have an inner Grinch, for JOY was not what I felt. Perhaps this is because it was October 8th.
It seems like every year retailers push the beginning of Christmas further and further out. First it was just after Thanksgiving. Then it was before Thanksgiving, with the, um, advent of (aptly named) Black Friday. Now it appears that Christmas arrives, in stores at least, well before Halloween. Naturally, retailers mount this effort in the hope of reaping as much profit as possible from offering shoppers the opportunity to purchase something that cannot be bought: JOY.
Resisting this push is perhaps a losing battle. But still I try. Until recently if you had asked me when Christmas begins I would have given you a rather orthodox answer: the Christmas season properly begins on the first Sunday of Advent. For many years I held to this view, well, religiously, waiting until that Sunday to break out our favorite Christmas cd’s and to put up our decorations. But this year I was startled for a second time by the arrival of Christmas, only this time in a good way.
This year, the Christmas season began for me on November 22nd. That was the day we hosted our (second annual?) Thanksgiving dinner in the fellowship hall. I can’t say why it was exactly, but something about the combination of family, friends and strangers (read: friends we haven’t met yet) all gathering in the same room to enjoy a wonderful holiday meal together gave me a deep sense of — you guessed it: JOY.
In the end I should not have been surprised that the Christmas season began early for me this year. At the start of our service this past Sunday, Allee Williams and Anne Hamilton danced and acted out for us the story of the Annunciation. It was the perfect way to begin Advent, and a beautiful reminder that the God who was born on that first Christmas morning can arrive wherever and whenever the Spirit choses.
So, there is only one thing left to say as we continue on our Advent journey: keep your eyes and hearts open! For even if it feels like this sacred season has not yet begun for you, Christmas is surely coming, bringing with it JOY to the world!