The popular term for my faith is Christian Mysticism. I don't participate much in what typically bears that label, but my basic approach is mystical, in that I assert nothing truly important can be put into words. Jesus taught in parables, in part because God and His revelation are ineffable. So we can't really describe ultimate truth, only indicate it using symbols.
Yet, there is a place for facts and intellectual considerations. For example, we can be fairly sure Jesus was not born during winter. It may be hard to nail down conclusively whether we should prefer the spring or fall, but winter is hard to justify. We can even discuss how it became a Western Christian tradition to celebrate His birth in place of what was once a pagan solar festival. And does it really matter, after so long at time?
While it may be more difficult to prove, there is strong reason to believe the early churches didn't bother celebrating His birth. The Resurrection is about the only significant annual celebration we can find in early writings. This is mostly because the first church mostly Jewish, and the precedents were set on the Jewish calendar. The death, burial and resurrection of Christ displaces the annual Passover celebration as the symbol for the founding fact of our “nation” in Heaven. The Gospel narratives avoid discussing Jesus' early years, except to note necessary elements of the story.
By now, Christmas is more a cultural holiday than anything else. Hoary with age already are complaints it is too commercialized. As the economy slowly grinds to a halt, perhaps that particular aspect will be reduced, but not the fallen nature which made it a problem in the first place. I try not to add confusion to things with some somber sacred wrapping, though. Rather, I don't invest much at all either way. I realize most people around me take it seriously, for whatever reasons, and I'm not on a crusade to correct all their mistaken understandings. For a mystic, some things wait for people to ask before you share them. This sort of thing won't make much difference eternally.
More important by far is the symbolism of Advent. A great many religious traditions hang all sorts of Baby Jesus ornaments on Advent, but my own celebrations emphasize the larger, more ancient importance. This was the Messiah, promised by God in almost the same breath as His announcing the Fall. The long sordid tale of human failure, upon failure, upon failure was the path the world trod, even while the promise grew brighter. When He burst upon the scene, most of the world missed it. Only after this obscure event was it shown to be central to all Creation. Advent travels the path toward His coming to save us all.
In my household we still use the colored candles, the wreath, and make an effort at evening rituals. We don't say much about the Nativity. Instead, we review the long sad tale of Creation, Fall, Law Covenants, then ultimate failure of Israel's mission and calling. We await Christmas Day more as the dawning of the final walking, talking, living revelation of God.
No one can tell you observing Advent is essential to your faith. No one can tell you how to view it, or celebrate it. Traditions on this are almost entirely man made, rather like gilding the lily. The very fragility of truth in the world of human consciousness is what makes it precious. If we never let it take root in our own souls, it's just another seasonal ornament to distract us. With no more authority than any other human on this earth, let me invite you to return the adventure to Advent, in any way which plants fresh flowers of Heaven in your soul.
Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business.