When you are a kid, Christmas means presents. That's it. You tell people about baby Jesus and Santa and elves, but you really only care about that year's haul. This excitement about acquiring toys and goodies from the fat man in red begins just as soon as the halloween candy has been processed through your tiny digestive tract.
December is a month-long waiting game. For a month you watch Christmas movies and sing Christmas songs and talk about Santa and shake presents and "no sir, you may not peek!" It is a month of stressful, yearning, expectant hearts wanting to tear through wrapping paper.
There's a lot I could point out that is wrong with that attitude towards possessions. There's a tolerance for greed that is unfathomable in this culture's treatment of December. However, the sweat-beading on a child's head as he looks under the tree and is overcome with anxiety about what he cannot wait to receive is the result of a misguided emotion, but is real nonetheless.
Look at the book of Isaiah, the language of the prophecies concerning the coming of the Jewish Messiah isn't calm. It isn't "I think it'll be great when Messiah comes, you guys." It is feverish, rich with the imagery of revelation, healing, and things finally being set right.
There's nothing in that passage that is remotely calm. The Jews waited in eager anticipation for the coming of Messiah, they sweated and yearned and prayed for his revelation. The same emotion I had as a kid hoping I would come away from the tree with enough loot is the emotion December really is all about. Breathless anxiety and eager anticipation of the coming of God With Us. Advent is the first season of the Church calendar, and the first day of Advent was this past Sunday. During this time, we are reminded of that anxious expectation felt by all of creation before the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Look at the way Simeon, a man who longed for the day of Messiah, responded when he saw Jesus as an infant. He said "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel." He can die in peace because he knows the promise has been kept, the chains will be broken, and all things will be made new.
That's why we sing all these weird songs. Well, most of the weird songs, at least. "I Saw Three Ships," is the most inexplicably written set of lyrics in human history and should be thought of as a riddle and not a song.
It's why we pray for Peace during each day of December. We want the Kingdom established--the Kingdom Isaiah foretold having no end--to increase in our lives and in our communities and for peace to increase in our world.
The divine Word, the thing spoken by the Creator God in Genesis 1 which spun planets into existence and is described as "holding all things together," in Colossians 1 put on skin and moved in next to us. He dwelt on earth in human form. God invaded a fallen earth longing to redeem his beloved. That's what we celebrate and why we try to train our anxious hearts to want only more of Jesus.
Pray for peace, promote peace, work for peace, and let yourself remember what it felt like to be an anxious kid before Christmas while you await the incarnate Word.