A blessed Advent!
I discussed it with folks visiting me over the weekend, right after Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the First Sunday of Advent.
It’s the yearly debate about Advent, and it goes something like this: The first person began, “Why do we start to celebrate Christmas so early? The decorations are up in early November; the carols begin before Thanksgiving; the tree goes up now . . . no wonder we’re sick of Christmas by December 26th!”
Another will chime-in, “Yeah, remember fifty years ago when we were kids? The tree would not go up until Christmas Eve; carols would never be heard till real close to Christmas; there were some added days of fast and abstinence during Advent; even Christmas Eve was a day of penance! Wasn’t that better? We so looked forward to Christmas because we waited!”
But – - as the Annual Advent Argument continues – - the next person observed, “But, there’s nothing we can do about it! Society begins the Christmas season on Thanksgiving, and ends it on December 25; the Church starts preparing for Christmas during Advent – - purple vestments, advent wreathes, no carols or decorations in church – - then begins the Christmas season with Mass on Christmas Eve, and ends it on the Epiphany (the Sunday after New Year’s). The Church is out of it and will just have to change.”
What to do? Well, we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, as much as we might be nostalgic for a very serious Advent. So, on the one hand, I guess we’ll have to make some peace with our culture’s way-too-early celebration of Christmas.
But we can hardly forget about Advent altogether! Spiritually, it’s part of our Catholic birthright; and, even from a human point of view, we’ll enjoy Christmas a lot more if we wait . . . as the old saying goes, “pleasure delayed is pleasure enjoyed.”
For instance, just last Thursday, I enjoyed an evening at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood. It was a magnificent Evening Prayer, followed by the seminary Thanksgiving Dinner (a week after the feast itself, since the community had been at home for their own family Thanksgiving.) Great, I thought: we’ll have turkey, dressing, gravy, pumpkin pie . . . bring it on! But, we get to the table for a very delicious meal, and no meat!
“We’ve begun our forty day Advent fasting to prepare for Christmas, and we Orthodox abstain from meat,” my host explained.
They haven’t “lost” Advent. Neither should we!
So, here are a few ideas I might propose to preserve at least some seriousness about Advent:
–last night I was at our seminary for Advent Lessons and Carols. It was splendid!
For a little over an hour, we had readings from the Bible about all the preparations for and prophesies of the coming of the Messiah, with the classical Advent hymns, and even one or two actual Christmas carols at the end to remind us of our goal. It was a real concentration on the waiting of the People of Israel for the Messiah, a genuine Advent experience;
–Let’s take the two magnificent Advent feasts of Our Lady – - December 8, the Immaculate Conception, and December 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe, – - very attentively;
–don’t forget the advent wreath, the advent calendar, and the Jesse Tree;
– okay, if you have to, put the tree-up now, but maybe only gradually decorate it, a few more ornaments each day, for instance, so it’s not in “full bloom” until December 24. I was at Holy Trinity Parish at West Point Saturday, for example, and the trees were already up, but not decorated so there was a sense of expectation; or, even at St. Patrick’s Cathedral the crib is already up – - since thousands visit daily – - but the manger is dramatically empty, with the baby Jesus not arriving until Christmas. While the visitors admire the crib scene, they realize someone is missing – - Jesus! – - and are reminded what Advent is all about;
–How about fasting from meat on the Fridays of Advent, like we do in Lent?
–A good, sincere confession before Christmas! (Our Advent Reconciliation Monday, with confessors available for four hours in every parish, is December 17 this year);
–Pay attention to the daily Mass readings for Advent, preferably, of course, at Mass itself; but, even if you can’t attend, get a missalette and meditate on the Readings from the Bible;
–Acts of charity for the poor;
–And, finally, let’s look on the bright side; okay, we admit that society – - including ourselves – - start celebrating Christmas way too soon, usually forgetting about Advent preparation. But, at least we can thank God that such noble sentiments abound this time of the year: friendship, generosity, family unity, rallying for the poor and hungry, attention to babies and children, gift-giving, happy memories, goodwill. I’ll take that anytime of the year!
However, wherever, whenever you do it . . . please do Advent! It’s too significant to forget! Christmas will be a lot happier if we prepare and wait . . .
Again, a blessed Advent!