As we enter the busy Christmas season, it remains Advent inside the church. Outside, the decorative colors have been red and green since before Thanksgiving. Inside the church, the color of the Advent season is a deep and rich blue.

Advent is the season of preparation for the birth of Christ. The music changes, as it does in the other solemn season of Lent, from major to minor keys. You will hear hauntingly beautiful Advent hymns with the themes of getting ready, preparing, and waiting.

Outside Christmas music is playing already, and at full blast everywhere you go. I know I am always excited to get to hear my favorite all time silliest Christmas lyric ever written: “Giddy up, jingle horse, pick up your feet” (from “Jingle Bell Rock”). Admit it, you can’t say that lyric out loud and not smile. Just typing it puts me in a good mood. But that’s a very different mood from the Advent tone of quiet meditative worship.

Out at the malls you are supposed to be preparing for Christmas by shopping. In the church you are supposed to be preparing spiritually so that when we celebrate Christ’s birth on Christmas Eve, God can really do something, since your heart will be ready.

I have never been an extremist about Advent. I don’t want to say that what is happening out in the culture is awful. After all, I love Christmas and all the fun of preparing for it, from the cookies to the music. I even like doing a little Christmas shopping, especially when I am operating on the “one for you and one for me” principle of commerce. Just another sacrifice I am willing to make to boost our economy.

But the key is to balance all that cultural Christmas hoopla with the quiet spirituality of Advent. It’s why we really need regular worship in this season. We need to be reminded that the real preparation is not about cooking, or shopping or wrapping gifts. The real preparation is about asking the hard questions of our spirits.

Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there someone you need to apologize to? Is God calling you into service or a new work in his name? Is there someone you should invite to church in a season when many people are searching?

Is there someone in your life who needs you to pray for them? Is there anyone who doesn’t?

This is the preparation that Advent calls us to fill our December days with – prayer, attention to the state of our souls, and acts of kindness, mercy and justice.

You don’t have to choose between Christmas and Advent. Just make sure you pay attention to both.