Today is the 3rd day of Advent, the four-week season of preparation before Christmas. I find it’s my favorite time of year.
The best way to observe Advent is to avoid doing Christmasy things before December 24th; and to use the time in other, better ways.
This isn’t easy in the United States, or people think it isn’t; they feel an invisible pressure to run around and buy things, or go to Christmas/”holiday” parties, and generally be in a rush to “get everything ready.” Meanwhile they’re not getting ready on the inside, only on the outside.
This is mostly because of television, the great amplifier of commerce. But Christmas isn’t about commerce, it’s about the birth of a Savior.
Babies come when they get here, and no amount of preparation truly gets us ready. So why are we kidding ourselves? (Because somebody can make money by stoking our anxieties, then seeming to offer relief in exchange for money.)
I don’t watch TV; I gave mine away. That by itself eases the pressure by 90%. I take Advent at a slow, relaxed pace that allows me to think and feel.
I feel sorry for people who run around this time of year. I want to tell them, “You’ve got plenty of time!” But they don’t see it that way.
I wouldn’t be caught dead going shopping on Black Friday. Some people do wind up dead that day, trampled to death at Walmart. What a wonderful Christmas their survivors must have, thinking about the big-screen TV that never came home.
The world is upside down. That’s the Bible message in a nutshell; how we live is completely screwed up.
This hasn’t changed since the Scriptures began to be written down at the dawn of history. Everything we think is important is actually trivial; the things we take for granted are the most important of all.
People don’t want to hear this now anymore than they did 6000 years ago. Still, some of us persist in broadcasting the message, or at least trying to live by it.
I can’t make people stay home on Black Friday. All I can do is to stay home myself, and do something thoughtful and fun.
I always start with an Advent wreath, which is just some evergreens arranged in a circle with four candles to light, one for each week until Christmas gets here. It helps us to mark the passage of time – and not get ahead of ourselves. That’s the temptation in December, always to get ahead of ourselves. The Advent wreath reminds us not to do that. Expectant parents don’t start the party until the baby gets here. Then it’s time to break out the gifts and have a feast. But not before.
The last few years I’ve had to make my own wreaths. I have a circular frame, arrange greenery around it and stick four candles in their holes. Make dinner, put the food on the table, light the candle(s), say the Collect of the Day, then eat. In the Gospel stories Jesus was always eating with his friends; they were a hungry bunch.
The wreath, and the waiting it enables, gives me the annual structure of Advent. I do the same thing with it every year. But I also do something different every year, because I’m not in the same mental place as before. Advent 2012 is new this year, and I want to be aware of what here and now is like. My circumstances have changed, so I ask myself what feels right for now?
This year I am writing, and publishing on my prayer sites visited by millions all over the world, a short, simple prayer for every weekday of Advent. I got the inspiration this year from seeing a photo on Facebook of my friend Cresta’s little boys making homemade Christmas decorations. This brought back memories; when I was a child everybody made little items to decorate their tree. Before there was plastic tinsel manufactured by heathens in China, people used to string together pieces of popcorn and drape that around their tree.
The Book of Common Prayer, from which I get the content that goes on my prayer sites, does not contain prayers for each of the weekdays of Advent, only for the four Sundays. So here’s tomorrow’s example of my little daily scribbles. You can see it’s just a thought or two.
[A Homemade Prayer for Wednesday of Advent 1
by Josh Thomas
Dear Lord and Friend, this world doesn’t make it easy to keep Advent. We live in a culture where the buildup is more important than the event. But you were a stranger in a strange land too, so help us be cheerful as we go quietly about our lives. Amen.]
My friend Stephen surprised me this year with an animated, online Advent calendar by Jacquie Lawson. Traditional Advent calendars are printed things you buy at the Hallmark store, with little cut-out doors for kids to open, one per day, showing and telling the Christmas story. I don’t have kids, so I don’t do Advent calendars anymore, until now. Ms. Lawson’s little product is a great way to start each day; every one is different. Her theme this year is “Alpine Christmas” and features her familiar dogs, cats and whimsy; she’s not religious because she wants to sell a lot of calendars, but a snowman’s a snowman and you can build your own with a variety of tools she supplies. Today she has a skiing bear who takes a spill at the bottom of the mountain.
I am also doing one other thing this year: I never decorate my house until Christmas Eve. I don’t believe in it; I believe in waiting instead. But this year, in case that feels too rigid, I go down to the basement every morning and pick out one little trinket to display. My house will gradually fill with signs of Christmas until the day finally gets here. On Monday I brought up my Christmas kitchen towels, because Monday is laundry day for me, and today my kitchen counter has a Santa Claus cookie jar right next to the flour and sugar. I am looking forward to finding my downy fawn tabletop, which always goes on an end table in my living room, as well as my miniature trumpet in its little black case, lined with red velvet. Christmas is a time for music, the making and singing of it, not just the listening. I don’t listen to Christmas music until December 24.
Yesterday I went to Murphy’s grocery and got subjected to the Muzak version of “We Three Kings.” Which isn’t even a Christmas song, it’s for Epiphany instead, but nobody knows that anymore except Episcopalians.
I like to host 12th Night parties on the Eve of Epiphany, but I probably won’t do that this year. Do you know what merriment people in England used to have on 12th Night? Jesters, fools, people in drag – like having a Gay bar right in your house!
You do whatever feels right to you; my only advice is to think about it and be deliberate. Maybe you’re one of millions who doesn’t like Christmas, religious or secular, because it makes you feel lonely and depressed. (I’ll write an Advent prayer about that, too.) If so, feel free to ignore what the world is doing. Jesus is in favor of taking care of yourself.
But if you love Christmas, as I do – the carols sound so much better when you wait for them and sing them at midnight mass – enjoy this time of year, wherever you find yourself physically and mentally. Christmas practices vary from place to place and person to person. I remember the pleasant shock I felt once, seeing a Gay-themed movie from Australia, which had the characters picking out their Christmas tree in the summertime, with everyone wearing shorts instead of bundled up like we are in the North. If you have a loved one, or several, I visualize you gathered with them, having some wonderful times. If you are alone, and aging like me, you can also enjoy the season, picking and choosing what to participate in and what to pass up.
This year I am glad to be who I am and where I am, safe and warm at home. I find my Christmas is better when I keep Advent first.++