Advent: Finding Peace Outside of the Nostalgia and Embellishment

Advent: Finding Peace Outside of the Nostalgia and Embellishment

For me, there is something really nostalgic about listening to the classic Christmas songs on vinyl records. To be honest, this nostalgic experience and practice has been a tradition for me, well before indie-types have created a culture in which popularized collecting and playing vinyl records. Some of my favorites to spin have always been those classic Christmas albums by Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, John Denver & The Muppets, and Andy Williams. However, I certainly have all the other unique and nostalgic albums as well; The Chipmunks, Snoopy & The Red Baron, The Crickets, and many more. Lately, Nat King Cole’s “A Christmas Song,” has been spinning constantly on the deck of my record player.

I guess I find something something special about the music on a record player as the kids are tucked in, the lights are dimmed low, and the candle dances on the wick. The dim room fills with the pastel hues of the glowing lights of the Christmas Tree, which quickly becomes the focal point of the room. The warm voice of Nat King Cole bellows from the speakers and cuts through the silence. It’s in that experience and space that I seemingly enter my own “Christmas-Carol-Vortex” in which I find myself remembering Christmas’ past, reflecting on Christmas present, and even looking in relation to the future.

My Grandmother McLain, at Christmas in her younger days.

I think my love for a nostalgic Christmas comes from my love of history, my experiences growing up, and also the influence of my grandparents. Though sadly neither of my grandparents are still living, both celebrated Christmas in their own special and unique ways that have left me with peaceful memories. My grandparents on my paternal side were huge decorators, especially my grandmother on that side. My paternal grandmother loved the Christmas classics from the forties and fifties. She loved having multiple-themed Christmas Trees in her house, a huge Santa Clause collection, and vintage decorations in every nook-and-cranny. Her yard was always littered with lighted primitive and vintage style Christmas decor and greens. My paternal grandfather always ensured that their house had model trains operating and lighted Christmas villages. Now, my maternal side was much different. They had less decor, but in many ways there was something in the atmosphere that felt classic, memorable, and of warmth. As we visited around the holidays, there was always a smell of baking in the air – and I mean always. I have some friends who always enjoyed visiting my grandparents around this time of the year, because it meant that when we visited we knew we would experience some of the best homemade cookies from grandma and the best stories of yesterday from grandpa. Growing up, my maternal grandfather often would bring in a pine from his hill, and loved to carve (not roll) extensive snowman in the open grass for us grandchildren – just as he did for his children. Some of my favorite and earliest Christmas’ memories involve sitting in the den, after a meal that literally extended on tables throughout the living room and dining room of their old farmhouse style house. My Christmas traditions have become a hybrid of these experiences. I decorate like an old lady, spin the classics, and look to create simpler but unforgettable times of laughter and smells around a meal.

The nostalgia of Christmas classics on vinyl and those similar Christmas memories that we all have, often bring us both a great and rewarding sense of peace and a sense of loss. We love traditions and storytelling around this time of the year, because it helps us tip-toe back into those peaceful memories. These ‘peaceful memories’ are moments in our life in which we felt like everything was right in the world. There certainly is a powerful lure and encouragement in these reflections. The problem is that powerful lure can also become a trap for our minds. While hindsight is twenty/twenty, the other reality is that many of our fond memories of yesterday have a way of only remembering the good parts – and it is because of this that unknowingly we find some of our yesteryear-thinking to be embellished. Truthfully, we are probably okay with the unconscious embellishing of yesteryear – after all we desire Christmas to be that time of peace and a time in which everything feels right in the world.

Christmas at Grandma McLain's
Christmas at Grandma McLain’s

Christmas has long been steeped in prayers for and desires of peace in the world, peace in our life, and peace in our families. In fact, the concept of peace finds itself in almost all of our Christmas Carols and Christmas Classics, confessing our desires for peace, comfort, and joy. It is because of that peace we desire, that far too often we find ourselves living lives that speak of peace in the past, celebration for what we have in the present, and only fearful doom and loss in the future. We want Christmas to be a time of peace, and we find the lure of nostalgia and embellished memories can really speak the peace we seek.

Honestly, it is true that Christmas should be a reminder of peace for us. It is through the story of Christmas that we realize that Jesus brought peace within our reach. The Prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, began to encourage people with the hope of what the coming of the Messiah would mean. Isaiah speaks of a time in which “Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be (nothing but) fuel for the fire.” He promises the Messiah will be the “Prince of Peace” and that “of his peace there will be no end.” Zechariah, a priest who would become the uncle of Jesus proclaims prophetically that the coming Messiah would “guide our feet into the path of peace.” Angels proclaim about Jesus to the Shepherds in the fields, “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” It that oppressive moment in which Mary gives birth to Jesus in a stable for animals, in a poor and overlooked neighborhood – that we glimpse peace in the flesh. The real story of Christmas is really full of everything that is far from nostalgic, comfortable, or peaceful. However, it is in this story that we see peace defined. Jesus is peace.

As Mary looks down at this miracle that is in her arms, she smiles as she looks at him, as any Mother does. It is a peace that is opposite of our Christmas peace defined by past nostalgia and embellished memories.  Mary experiences something that allows her to find hope and peace in what is to come, the future, not the past. Mother Teresa was quoted as saying, “Peace begins with a smile.” Mary experienced that reality as she held the incarnate Messiah in the flesh. We fear the future because it’s unknown. It’s something we can’t shape or hold. Memories offer that which we have held in our hands, and long to again. The Reality is there isn’t always peace in those situations we can hold and control either. Those situations were never as peaceful as we like to remember them. Martin Luther, a hymnist and reformer, once said “I have held many things in my hand, and have lost them all.”  However, Martin Luther doesn’t stop there – he goes on to say, “…but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” That’s speaking about a peace that can look at the future.

We have no idea what thoughts were going through Mary’s mind has she held her crying baby, and as the “Messiah of the World” now nursed from her. Though, in that moment I am sure she experienced how real it was – including how real God’s peace was. I am sure she celebrated that moment, that realization, and that reality. That moment also, I am sure, shifted the way she looked to the future. In that Baby, Jesus brought peace within our reach.

David even knew of this forward-realizing “peace of God,” when he wrote, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Chinese Church leader Watchman Nee explains it like this, “A born-again person ought to possess unspeakable peace in the spirit.”

Experiencing the peace of God in the Advent Season is being reminded about how real it is. Brother Lawrence gives us that reminder, “We must do our business faithfully; without trouble or disquiet, recalling our mind to GOD mildly, and with tranquility, as often as we find it wandering from Him.” Experiencing the peace of God in this season that mobilizes us into the future with peace and boldness, starts with recalling our mind to God. The lure of Nostalgia and Embellishment isn’t wrong. I enjoy it, but we must not be entrapped by it, in a way that prevents us from experiencing peace in new things and into the future. Pick something you are thankful for this week in your life. Next week, pick something that you will be thankful for in the future. Celebrate those things. Find the peace of God in the middle of those things, and not the sense of loss.

  • How will you recall your mind to God this Advent Season?
  • What Christmas nostalgia and embellishment do you find yourself celebrating and remembering the most?
  • What thing will you be thankful for this week, and experience peace in?
  • What thing will you be thankful for in the future, and find the peace of God in?

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