This is the day, were I legalistic about observing Advent, refraining from launching into Christmas celebration too soon, that Tal and I would begin getting our abode ready for the feast of the Nativity. This year, for anyone reading this weblog, you know we began last Monday, first and foremost wrestling with the tree and its illumination, a week earlier than normal. I didn't struggle at all with that decision which amounted to a shortening of Advent. We had our reasons, travelling today being the primary one.
I am aware, though -- this year in addition to most others, that my wanting to observe Advent is met with many responses, curiosity to ridicule to scorn. So deeply entrenched in the culture is the whole Christmas machine that even those who insist that we need to put Christ back into Christmas make the declaration with the soft glow emanating from an immaculate stable in mind. The Christ in Christmas for many centers on a misty-eyed of singing "Silent night, holy night" while holding a flickering candle. A Christ-centered Christmas in those cases is a sentimental experience and it ends, if not by the time the gifts are opened Christmas morning, by the end of daylight hours on December 25th. (We would be saying something along the same line, perhaps, were we to insist that summer is over at the end of the day on June 21st.)
Advent is not a sentimental season. Neither is it a season of excess. Of all the liturgical seasons this is the one I have always liked the best. The lectionary readings are about watching and waiting, about unexpected life and changing the way we live, about death and dying. What difference, if any, is this birth going to make? It isn't simply about who is being born or who was born. More importantly and more personally and more urgently, what might be born in me were I to allow it? What might come to life and change the world were I willing for it to happen?
An awful lot of discomforting housecleaning has to be done before we can enter into the feast of the Incarnation with that understanding. And, yes, in many cases something (many somethings?) has to die before the new thing can be born. Hence, the importance of this more or less four week period.
I wish it for people, for all people, Christian or not, that understanding. I wish it, knowing it will be easier always to short-circuit the process. I wish it, well aware that dodging quiet contemplation will lose almost everytime in the face of pursuing "Christmas spirit," that memory carried from childhood, sometimes accurate, oftentimes not, a pursuit that most of the time leaves us disappointed and sad and then glad when it's all over. I wish it, and will keep wishing it through the twelve days of Christmas -- through the process of our untrimming the tree for another year.