About obligation.

We’re now past Thanksgiving. We’re now into December. The fights about whether or not it’s too early for Christmas music and Christmas trees and Christmas advertising can end.

Now there is a steady sound of Christmas advertising and Christmas lists and Christmas events.

And the questions.

  • What do you want for Christmas?
  • Are you looking forward to Christmas?
  • What are you doing for Christmas?

For many of us, if we are honest, those are hard.

We want to be together, but we know we won’t be. We want to be healthy, but we know that we have a week or two left to live, at least according to the doctor. We are already looking ahead to being alone, to being overlooked, to being the opposite of everything that Hallmark and Instagram are showing us about how things are supposed to be.

So what can we do? How can we live through a season that is supposed to be happy and exciting and warm when we know that it won’t be?

This week, James Clear offered a question that could help us. He wrote, “Are your obligations real or imagined?” When we use a Hallmark Channel happy-ending movie to start forming the expectation that every conflict, every sadness, every loss can be repaired in 90 minutes or less, we’re creating an obligation to live up to. An imagined one.

It’s an imagined obligation that Christmas is supposed to be happy and exciting and warm, full of presents that solve our problems, full of gatherings that solve our loneliness, full of pageantry that makes us holy. And that imagined obligation is dangerous to our health, our relationships.

We need help. We need Advent.

The ancient season of Advent is intended to help us learn how to clarify questions of obligations. In some traditions, it’s a season of fasting before feasting, of learning to let go of the things that are holding us captive so that we can appreciate the past gift of the incarnation of Christ and the present reality of the constant presence of Christ, and the expectation of the future coming of Christ.


A question: is there an imagined obligation that already has you trembling as you begin this season? Could you ask God to help you address it?

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