On one of his many on-the-road trips, Charles Kuralt, the noted television journalist and writer, befriended George and June Butler, a couple in Vermont.
The Butlers operated a small farm where they raised vegetables, flowers and sugared maple trees. Environmentally conscious, they lived as simply as possible and produced their own hydroelectric power.
Kuralt was intrigued by their lifestyle and asked them what they were up to. They replied that they were “preventing the future.”
By their way of life, they were offering up a modest protest against the prevailing tendency to use resources with little thought to their replenishment.
Christmas is harder to prevent!
Since Christmas spending has become the salvation of our economy, retailers begin pushing Christmas earlier and earlier.
Just recently, some major chain stores have announced that they will open on Thanksgiving as a way of launching the shopping season.
The way it’s going, “Black Friday” will eventually be pushed back to Halloween. As Greg Jones of Duke University once put it, we now have one long fall holiday season: Hallowthanksmas.
The rush to Christmas is both longer and more ferocious, leaving us totally depleted by the time Christmas actually arrives.
In that vein, we, as ministers and churches, might do well to take our cues from George and June Butler and do what we can to “prevent Christmas.”
Here are a few suggestions that I hope will help us all tap the brakes and slow the mad dash to Christmas.
First, the season of Advent is a good time to use the lectionary.
Preaching from the prescribed texts for each Sunday will head off our temptation to jump to the stories of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 2 and Luke 2. The lectionary texts are harder texts; they emphasize repentance and alertness.
They remind us that God operates on a different schedule and is not in a hurry. They invite us to take a second look at what’s going on around us, to stop and think a bit about how our world operates.
Preaching these texts puts the inner work of getting ready for Christmas front and center – a valuable reminder that being ready for Christmas has much more to do with who and what we are as what we buy.
Second, preventing Christmas requires that we resist the temptation to fill the church calendar to overflowing.
I remember well the discomfort one church staff member felt when we first contemplated not having some kind of seasonal special every Sunday and Wednesday evening.
We had become addicted to busyness and were mirroring our culture’s holiday madness instead of offering an alternative.
We soon recognized that a night or two off was good for our health and a welcome relief to many of our fellowship. The dictum “less is more” may indeed add significance to the season.
Third, preventing Christmas also means that we get in touch with what it means to wait.
I try to spend more time visiting hospitals and nursing facilities. Time drags in those places. Yearnings – for test results, for someone to talk to, for getting home – are almost palpable in such places.
Being with those who have lots of time on their hands is the best way to remember that waiting is at the heart of our faith.
Abraham and Sarah waited a long time for the promise to be fulfilled. Israel waited a long time in Egypt before getting loose. Jesus didn’t jump into his ministry too early.
At a minimum, we might set ourselves the goal of visiting one person for every party or celebration we have to attend.
Finally, one of the best ways to prevent Christmas is to keep some silence.
Devote some extra time to sitting still. Turn off the computer and phone. Create some moments of intentional silence during worship – enough to make people uncomfortable.
This way we remind ourselves and our people that God’s best work, like the birth of Jesus, takes place in quiet, out-of-the-way and unexpected places.
Taking steps to “prevent Christmas” just might result in a richer observance for us and our people. And, we might even have the energy to celebrate.
Bill Ireland is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dalton, Ga.