Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Dec. 14, 2007. At the time of publication, McDougal was coordinator of Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
John Mayer’s song called “Waiting for the World to Change” has been in my head as I think about Christmas.
Mayer writes compelling lyrics about how we often feel like we don’t have the power to change our world. “Now we see everything that’s going wrong/with the world and those who lead it/we just feel like we don’t have the means/to rise above and beat it.”
So, we keep waiting, Mayer says, waiting for the world to change.
Advent is about waiting for the world to change.
When the angel told Mary she would give birth to the Messiah, Mary sings, “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)
We’re waiting for Jesus to change the world this Christmas. But are we waiting for the right things?
We’re waiting, apparently, for Jesus to ride in and baptize our retail stores so that we can have a true celebration of Christmas.
There’s a war on Christmas, I’m told. Why, they won’t even greet you at the Walmart with “Merry Christmas” anymore. Target kicked the bell ringers off the sidewalk, and the atheists kicked the baby Jesus out of the manger in the town square.
I’m not sure Jesus has picked a side in this war on Christmas.
We also seem to be waiting for Jesus to come into our homes and give us “balance.”
We want to celebrate meaningfully the birth of Christ, but if we were honest, we would also admit that we want the gifts, the shopping, even that Wham song about “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you threw it away.”
So, our prayers lead us to ask Jesus to help us find the “true meaning of Christmas,” not to the detriment of these other things, but in addition to these things. It’s self-centered.
We’re not waiting for the things we should be waiting for. We’re not waiting, and working, for the end of poverty.
We’re not waiting, and working, for the proud to be made low and the oppressed around the world to be set free.
We’re not thinking about the widow in the nursing home and waiting, and working, for an end to isolation and loneliness.
What would Jesus say to us about waiting this Christmas season?
He might tell us to stop waiting for the stores to change. If the “real meaning of Christmas” isn’t found in stores, why do we care what they do?
We should accept that this is the world’s way of celebrating Christmas without the worship, without the belief, without any change. Get over it, Jesus would say. Have as little to do with it as possible. Change yourself.
He might tell us to stop waiting for Jesus to do the work for us. I sense Jesus saying to my own life, “I’m not going to do this for you. This is up to you. I’ve shown you where the focus should be. Everything is there for a meaningful celebration of the holiday.”
And, he might say, stop waiting to make Christmas about adoration and giving. These are the central elements of that first Christmas: adoration of the baby Jesus and the giving of gifts to others.
There’s a way to slow down and take time to reflect on what it means for God to enter the world as a little baby.
There’s a way to give gifts that doesn’t play into the mindset of consumerism, one that lets us think of the gifts we give as an offering to God.
Stop waiting to do these things; do them.
Mayer got it wrong. There is a way to rise above and beat it.
Brent McDougal is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.