Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Why on earth am I posting something about Advent and Christmas in the Octave of All Saints?
In too many ways the ‘world’ steals goodness from the Advent season. Advent is swamped and washed away by premature celebration experienced in the proliferation of gatherings and events which crowd our December calendars. We are left exhausted and harried, even though the reason for our merriment, Christ’s Nativity, has not yet happened. This often means Christmas Eve and the Feast of the the Nativity seem anticlimactic and are accompanied by an unfortunate sense of relief – “I’m glad THAT is over with.” We are cheated and robbed of the exceptional gifts of expectation and anticipation. The culture refuses to do what we ask of all our children – wait until Christmas before opening the presents. Waiting means reflecting on the value of things desired. Waiting in hope is a posture of heart and mind we all need to cultivate. The thing desired, once obtained, is all the more treasured, its beauty and worth more keenly felt and seen.
The Church in Advent relives the waiting of the darkened world for the appearance of Messiah. We reinsert ourselves Scripturally and emotionally in the place of fasting, seeking, repentance, and expectation of the Kingdom’s coming with the birth of David’s true son. The Nativity rejoices in the fulfillment of Promise in the visible appearing of the Son of God to the world. And THAT is when the celebrations need to begin. The Church has set aside Twelve Days for all the good stuff, from Nativity to Epiphany (Theophany).
Are there ways to refuse the culture’s rip-tide sways and recover the cadence and spiritual significance of Advent and Christmastide? I think our national cultural habits are well entrenched and there is little hope in changing them. For many reasons it may not be possible or wise to excuse ourselves from what others do, so we will join them out of love, courtesy, and respect. But WE can begin now to plan our commitments, arrange our time, and move our priorities appropriately. We can insist that our own traditions reflect more truly the intentions of the season.
Some ideas (and I am certain you already have some and may have many others):
1. Observe Advent traditions and plan for them now (the Advent wreath, the Creche, decorating the tree on Christmas Eve (at least no earlier than the Rose Sunday).
2. Plan your visits and celebrations during the Twelve Days of Christmas. Encourage others in your family, work, ministries, and communities to do the same.
3. Why not leave some of the presents unopened Christmas morning and do one each day as long as they last throughout the Twelve Days?
4. Determine to attend the special services of Holy Communion during Christmastide (St. Stephen, St. John, Holy Innocents, and the Circumcision of Christ). Make a bigger deal of those days.
5. Become familiar with special traditions and foods associated with the seasons and particular days. Full Homely Divinity, (an Anglican site) or Fisheaters, (a Roman Catholic site) generally have good and practical suggestions. Of course, you may use any others you find surfing as well.
6. Plan some vacation time during the Twelve Days.
7. And what about a Twelfth Night festivity? An Epiphany House blessing? Chalking of the doors?
I thought if I sent this now we might still have adequate time to be self conscious about how we plan and prepare. Perhaps, at least in our part of the world, we might recover some meaningful traditions we have received from our Mother Church and through them more surely affirm and establish the rich truths and beauty of the faith to which we are called.
Anything worthwhile is worth planning and waiting for.