Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: Season of soul-searching
HAYDENVILLE — Judging solely by the eruption of Christmas decorations on streetlights and doorposts, the Christmas displays in every store window and the preponderance of Christmas music on the radio, an innocent observer might conclude the United States is a deeply faithful Christian country.
Now it is true that a majority of Americans (73 percent) identify as Christians — but, in fact, less than 20 percent of those regularly attend church. Polls show that there is a striking gap between what Christians report regarding church attendance (40 percent say they attend church regularly) and the actual number who get up, shower and dress and make their way to a church pew (20 percent). That gap between what Christians report about their church attendance and the reality of how many people are participating in worship fascinates me — especially during this Christmas season.
Every December, this country looks, sounds and feels like a faithful Christian nation, but in reality it is not. The prominent display of all things Christmas from Thanksgiving until the end of the calendar year is more a reflection of our love of shopping than our love of Jesus. December has been hijacked by a culture of consumerism and turned into a carnival of gift buying, gift wrapping and ever-mounting credit card debt. The more we deck the halls in Target, Macy’s and JC Penney’s, the less we are in harmony with the meaning of the season.
If this country was actually faithful to the roots of Christianity, we would enter December in a quiet and reflective mood. Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day, is a contemplative time — which is why many Advent hymns are in minor keys. It is a time of waiting and watching for the birth of a child who grew to be a man who changed the world.
Advent is actually like a little Lent — a time of preparing and soul-searching. It is not a time for harried shopping trips, over-scheduled calendars and excessive eating, drinking and spending.
During December, our country is draped in Christmas colors and enveloped in everything Christmas which obliterates the almost 30 percent of Americans who identify as people of other faiths or no faith. The dominance of Christmas in our culture every December presents a false picture of our character as a predominately Christian nation and a false picture of what the month of Advent actually means and how Advent should be observed.
Many Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and atheists would love to tone down the preponderance of red and green and Christmas Muzak everywhere during December. And many faithful Christians would like to as well.
In our church in Haydenville, we — like many of our Christian brothers and sisters — are focusing on slowing down as the pace of life around us quickens. Because Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year (Jan. 1 has no significance in the Christian calendar), we are making “Advent Resolutions” about increasing our time of prayer and meditation each day until Christmas. Also this Advent, we are also looking forward to two quiet, contemplative evening services called “Evensong.” For practicing Christians, Advent is actually a time when we would prefer to pull inward, gather quietly, observe our traditions with friends and family in worship, wait, watch and prepare.
The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics. She can be reached at