When I was a kid, there was one tradition that was always my favorite. The advent calendar. We got the disposable variety with the cheap chocolate that kids find appealing. Now, my family uses a re-usable one with drawers to hold whatever treasures we choose to put in. Sometimes it is candy. Other times, coins.
As a child, I knew it was a countdown tool to Christmas Day. As an adult, I realize that the advent calendar is so much more than just a countdown. It is a symbol of a great story. A story of bondage and freedom. A story as relevant today as in the day it was lived and written.
It is also a time that can specifically relate to the pursuit of simplicity.
What is Advent?
Not everyone celebrates Advent during the four weeks leading up to Christmas. So, I want to give a little bit of background before I compare this to the idea of simplicity.
Advent is a faith-based celebration anticipating the arrival of Christmas. The focus of the season is to understand the wait endured by the people of Israel as they anticipate the arrival of a promised savior. If you are familiar with Bible stories, then you know that the first chapters of the book called Genesis tells the story of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. In this story is the first promise from God that he will send a savior.
This raises a question… why does anyone need a savior?
As the story goes, God gave an instruction that was not followed by Adam and Eve, and their disobedience caused a rift between them and God. It was like a door had closed to which they didn’t have the key. A door much too solid to kick down, much too thick to cut through. They were trapped and unable to open the door. Immediately, God told them that He would fix it, as only a perfect and all-powerful being can. It was not something they would have to figure out for themselves.
The Bible, then, is an intricate story of how God fixes the problem. Much of the Old Testament is focused on a single people group: the Israelites. Throughout many years, working through many people in many situations, God reveals more and more of His plan. The Old Testament gives a set of laws for how people are to interact with God until the plan is carried out. It is cumbersome, burdensome. The people grow from a family, into a nation. That nation becomes enslaved and then is freed. But then enslaved again and freed once more. Throughout a 4000-year history, the people of Israel continually wonder when their long-awaited savior will come.
They suffer the consequences of humanity’s broken relationship with God. Meanwhile, the disobedience of Adam and Eve gets passed down from generation to generation, and each person finds that even when he wants to do good, he often finds himself doing bad things. So, it is no longer just the “sins of the father” that are causing problems, but every individual adds more fuel to the fire. Eventually, part of the nation is lost, but a remnant remains. And from this remnant, comes Jesus.
Jesus is a man who claimed to be God’s promised savior, the one sent to deliver humanity from bondage. The one they had been waiting for for generations. Beyond simply being a man, Jesus also claimed to actually BE God. The Christian faith is built on the belief that he is who he claimed to be.**
Jesus, through his perfect life, maintained the relationship with God that humanity couldn’t maintain. Through his undeserved death, Jesus took the full punishment that humanity deserved. He saved humanity from the rift that it had caused between itself and God. He had opened the door leading to a relationship with God, allowing anyone who wishes to enter.
What’s this have to do with simplicity?
Plenty. Because whether the story of Christmas is something sacred to you or whether you consider it some ancient myth, the story of Christmas has nothing to do with materialism. It has everything to do with healing broken relationships. It has to do with humility and self-sacrifice. It has to do with understanding that good things are worth waiting for. And isn’t that what we’re all waiting for? Isn’t that what simplicity is about? Isn’t about realizing that we don’t want to be in bondage to things? Isn’t about realizing that we don’t need everything we are able to have just because we can? Isn’t it about realizing that others are worth sacrificing for?
For the next 4 weeks, I will be writing some thoughts on Advent. And to help me, I will be using some ideas from an initiative called Advent Conspiracy. For a quick introduction into what Advent Conspiracy is, you can check out this video.
I’m looking forward to anticipating Christmas with you through simplicity.
**It’s not my intention in this post to offer the evidence to support or deny the claim of Jesus, but simply to give an understanding of what the Christian roots of Christmas are. It’s also not my intention to discuss previous religious festivals that Christmas has borrowed dates and traditions from, but I do highly recommend the book Augustus Caesar’s World by Genevieve Foster for an account of how many of these holidays from around the world intertwine.
Thanks for reading!