Over the years we have witnessed an intensification of Christians campaigning for Christ to be kept in Christmas. This issue brings to the surface many different important discussion points, namely, the place of faith in the public square, the continued waning influence of Christendom, pluralism and the like.
All of these issues are worth discussing and engaging on some level or another. This Advent season however, I’m more concerned with a different issue.
I get the idea of keeping Christ in Christmas, but I’m more concerned about keeping Christ in Christians. What difference does it make if we keep Christ in Christmas, but our lives are not reflecting Christ in us?
The Season of Recalibrating
Advent is the season to refocus our energies to create margin and space for the life of Christ to dwell in and flow through us. One of the fundamental contradictions of Christian spirituality (at least in the United States) is our deep desire to have Christianity pervade our culture but not have Christ permeate our being.
Advent is the time, however, to recalibrate our lives and embrace the way of Christ. This is what fueled the Apostle Paul’s ministry. Paul clearly understood that it is possible to be fully in Christ but not have the life of Christ fully formed in you. Paul wrote,
“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19).
At the core of Paul’s anguish is the reality that the way to a flourishing life that bears witness to God’s kingdom comes through people formed by Christ. This is what is critical for followers of Christ to focus on. However, it’s easier to focus on a slogan than it is to focus on our souls.
Nothing to Fear
It seems to me that the widespread concern about keeping Christ in Christmas springs from fear. Christians have long enjoyed the privilege of framing the dominant cultural narrative through Christian symbols and values. Many Christians are holding on for dear life to maintain a place in society that is rapidly changing. But there’s nothing to fear.
Historically, Christianity has flourished when it’s been on the margins. When pushed to the margins, God’s power has been available in fresh ways. The early church experienced this. So did the Desert Mothers and Fathers, the Confessing Church, the Black Church and many others through the centuries.
This is why Advent is so important. Our primary task is the creation of interior space for Christ to be born in us afresh. This is the most effective witness we have.
When our focus is on maintaining control over the cultural landscape, Christ is often not “kept in us.” The need for cultural power and influence often drives Christ from our lives. There is an appropriate place for the symbols and values of Christianity to inform and influence public discourse and the common good. The problem becomes when our lives are oriented around dominating that conversation.
This is why spiritual formation matters so much to me as a pastor. I’m aware of the many insidious ways that Christ is not kept in us.
Christ is not kept in us when we take on the pace of our culture, living without any margin for reflection and prayer. Christ is not kept in us when we adopt the consumer driven mentality that bases identity on accumulation of stuff. Christ is not kept in us when we settle for the superficial definitions of happiness and disregard the joy that comes only from God. Christ is not kept in us when we spend our energy worrying about our cultural power and influence.
Anticipating Christ in Us
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Every Advent season we are invited to a mutual indwelling with God. We are invited to root our lives in Christ, and allow Christ to be rooted in us. At the end of the day, Christ might not be kept in Christmas from a cultural point of view, but we can continue allowing Christ to be kept in us.
As I think about this season that anticipates the arrival of Christ, there are a few ways we can bear witness to Christ being in us.
Advent is to help us distinguish our anticipation of the true God’s coming from the false no-gods we cling ourselves to.
There are plenty of false gods vying for our allegiance. Whether these gods come in the form of materialism, consumerism, militarism or politics, Advent reminds us that the God we long for has not come in fullness yet. Therefore we wait, and in the process unshackle ourselves from false allegiances.
Advent challenges us to see that the marginal spaces in our world are indeed the center of God’s attention and activity.
A simple question to assess our discipleship during Advent is “am I preoccupied with those in power or with those on the margins?” Advent calls us to see a God who comes in foolish and surprising ways. He comes to be with those on the margins. With those with no power. With those often shunned and oppressed. In Advent we see how God comes in weakness and in the ordinary. In a world fixated with power and the spectacular we easily miss this God.
Finally, Advent calls us to wait in hope for the full and final coming of the one who will make all things new. In this respect our waiting is a critique against all powers. In waiting we say, you are not God. Our waiting is not a passive waiting, however.
As Henri Nouwen has said,
“Waiting for God is an active, alert—yes, joyful—waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.”
This Advent season, as we anticipate Christmas, let’s keep Christ in Christians.
This article originally appeared here.