Thursday, November 30, 2017


James mentioned in the comments (look it up, it will do you good) that Advent was a penitential season.  If I would like to reclaim Christmas, it would likely take something radical like a fast of some sort, or it would just be a Good Intention, forgotten by Tuesday.

I don't have much time, as Advent begins in just a few days. I don't have a plan.


Sam L. said...

Step 1: Get an Advent Calendar.
Step 2: Put it on a wall where you're SURE to see it.
Step 3 (and on): Up to you.

Retriever said...

You don't need a plan. As I was just saying to my son on the way to church this am, Advent is simply a time to reflect on two things: what the world was like just before Jesus was born and some of the ways people were so desperately in need of God. And some of the ways WE as individuals now (and not THOSE PEOPLE or everyone we disagree with) are desperately in need of Him now. So it's worth reflecting, praying and perhaps doing some reading (maybe even some historical research on John the Baptist, the situation in the Holy Land back then. I told him not to try and do it all in one year, but to pick one book almost at random. It could be a Roman history one year, a Jewish account another, some modern day archaeologist another, to read side by side with Scripture.

I have to admit that, as a mom, and having experienced some personal and family disasters near Christmas time, the sense of desperate longing for God is very real for me. I have both had a longed for baby die in mid pregnancy during an Advent season, and given birth to a baby the day after Christmas. So themes of death and hope and new life stir this season for me.

I have also lived in countries where we muttered about wicked and tyrannical rulers and longed for deliverance from them, and where people sought solace from faith while others looked to secular saviours, so the competing demands upon Jesus have always fascinated me. Living so comfortably in this country perhaps blunts such notions.

But (as I told the kid), the most important thing in Advent is to ready oneself for God, to ask God to come into one's heart and mind and renew one. To try to use the season to do a kind of spiritual housekeeping to make oneself ready for the season. We all fuss and clean and try to impress total strangers and the Sackville Bagginess of our extended families at Christmas but we should also be getting ready for the miracle of God in Man made manifest. I do think that the Germans get it right with the hymns about the season, and the Baby (despite my son and I liking the Heliand Gospel at other times of the year). If you think about how even the most hardened secular types ready themselves for the birth of their first child, you have an inkling why God made Himself so vulnerable and came to us as a baby. Because even the wickedest of us sometimes lowers their voice, softens their heart, and tenderly reaches out to a baby. Not Herod, perhaps. But many others. I think we can be reached. None of us so wicked, none of us so permanently lost to God, but that we can't turn from our evil ways...And I say this as someone despondent at my failings and sins. I sit in church like prime steak for Screwtape, snarking at the sermons and sighing "if it weren't for tribal obligations, I'd stay in bed or go for a hike on Sunday". But the baby, that is the bridge to a god who wants me (I think) to learn to see and love others as carefully and tenderly as He already loves all of us.

As I blather inanely, one also balances this with the message of John the Baptist about repentance. I do think serious and unflinching self-examination for a limited time (the reason for these penitential SEASONS rather than perpetually) is valuable. Perhaps a journal for the four weeks, tracking a particular bad habit one is trying to tame (I don't know where to start???)

But the main thing, is do something...Perhaps one penitential activity, and one activity preparing oneself for God. We so take Him for granted. So what if we imagined ourselves, say, Joseph or Mary, and tried to keep an imaginary journal of their last few weeks before He was born. What might they have been wondering?

Mark said...

In a catechumen class this morning (I am one) we discussed the Christian calendar and the major feasts, Christmas (the Nativity as it is often referred to in Orthodoxy)being the next most imminent.
The fundamental idea conveyed was the sanctification of time. God exists in the eternal present, which includes our present, past and future. And the feasts and other events of the calendar are the means employed by the Church to INVITE us and support us in our own spiritual development to enter into and participate in that sacred NOW as though they were portals from our mundane present into the present eternal. These feasts and seasons are NOT memorials the way Memorial Day or 4th of July are. They are literally PORTALS from our plodding daily grind into the present reality the feast or season is patterned after.

Thus, Advent is our opportunity to contemplate the reality of anticipation, expectation of promise of the Spirit about to be incarnated in us and in all creation. All the things that took place in Palestine those millennia ago are not just past to God, nor ought we to think of them solely that way. In mystery, they are alive and living now in the believer whose faith is engaged.

And then with the Nativity and ultimately with Pascha (Easter) these actually eternally current events quicken and transform us in ways beyond our meager efforts to gin up enthusiasm for historically 'over', i.e. past events, because we have a portal. Reminds me of Jesus' reference to the sheep being able to go in and out of the gate to enjoy green pastures.

Of course the other great impediment is bypassing the consumerist mindset that plagues and plagiarizes the Christian calendar.

Holy Advent to you!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Mark and Retriever, good stuff! If either of you want to continue, feel free to use this space.

@ Mark - I have written about some of this over the years.

Old Curmudgeon said...

Some disjointed comments:

Having looked at some photographs of the Trump Christmas decorations, I thought they were a visual illustration of this season for
Christians. Going from the stark white of winter, (sleep, death, barrenness,sadness) to color, joy and rebirth. My family has the unreligious habit of judging Christmas decorations for artistic merit.

Perhaps a part of the problem you have with Advent has to do with the problem of the current American Christmas. The emphasis is on the material, food, drink, gifts and celebrating, not on the religious holiday. It seems sad to me that for many decorated trees, lights, gifts and parties are more important than anything "churchy."

I have thought, that were I a Christian, I would consider getting Christmas off the official list of government holidays. The Puritans may have been dour and difficult people, but they saw a real problem and did what they could.