Thursday, December 2, 2010
Advent is a season that sneaks up on us. For most people, it isn't always clear when it starts. Money says it starts the day after Thanksgiving, when people leave the warmth of their families to wait in darkened parking lots for "doorbuster" sales. For the church, it began last Sunday. This past Sunday we lit the candles in the windows of the sanctuary, saying a reading for each one. Some were traditional readings (Magnificat, Benedictus) others were not (May Sarton, Nathan Graziano). We were trying to give a sense of moving from darkness and struggle into the light. In our Ann Weems reading, she talked about "running to Bethlehem" which seemed an apt metaphor, whether or not you buy the whole Bethlehem-manger thing. Then we lit the first candle of the Advent wreath (in our church the "hope" candle). There was a sermon (featuring my magic uke). Then we finished everything off with a carol. We had solid attendance, too. It was a great way to kick everything off.
In my family we stretch the holiday out. Advent is Advent and Christmas starts on the 25th. What this means is a variety of family gatherings (of course) and a much saner family holiday on Epiphany, itself. It means there isn't any crazy crash on the 26th or 27th. There is less stress because there is more time to do things during Christmastide and there is more time in Advent to be..well...Adventish. In church we have been talking about this, too. Advent needs to be its own thing, not a vague sort of "Christmastime" filled with frantic activity shoehorned into regular life. We have a good chunk of time. Let it move slowly. Then Christmas, itself needs to slow down too.
Reclaiming the liturgical calendar can help with this. There is a certain wisdom in the pacing of the days. More than any other "tradition" of modern times (I'm looking at you Black Friday!) this old traditional pattern of celebration is there to bring us into the spirit of the season and to take us out again with our good humor intact and our souls a little better off than they were before. Running through the darkness will not get us to the light any quicker. Let us try to take our time this year...
Here is an old hymn, written in the 1860's, by the transcendentalist Christian (and, yes, Unitarian) Frederic Henry Hedge.
CHRISTMAS HYMN--F.H. Hedge
'Twas in the East, the mystic East,
Where Time his race began,
Where new-born Nature spread the feast
For new created man,--
The tree of life was planted first,
So holy scriptures tell,
Before the earth with sin was cursed,
And man from Eden fell.
That tree untasted passed away,
And sin and sorrow grew,
And tarried long the wished-for day
To waiting Israel due:--
Till from the land where Jordan old
Still washes Judah's shore,
When God's own hand the page unrolled,
Of Judah's sacred lore,
Sprung, to requite that early loss,
From David's royal root,
Another tree, whose stem the cross,
And Christendom its fruit.
Blest be the Tree of life divine!
The hand that gave it blest!
Lord, through the earth extend its line,
And give the nations rest!
In us implant its sacred seed,
And with thy grace bedew,
And let it, ripening into deed,
For aye itself renew.