Sometime early in November one of my friends sent me the following bumper-sticker ‘Note to all premature Christmas decorators: Calm down, Mary hasn’t even told Joseph she’s pregnant yet!’
A few days after the bumper sticker arrived I read an essay entitled ‘Advent RIP’. Basically the writer articulates what we all know to be true and that is Advent has been swallowed up by commercial Christmas.
Indeed the secular world has actually unashamedly robbed the concept of Advent and so every chocolate manufacturer now has an advent calendar of surprises behind every one of the twenty four windows. The perfume and toiletries industry are also in on the act and this week I even saw and advent calendar of 24 different cheeses!
Advent as a season of spiritual preparation for the birth of Christ is consigned to the short time we spend in church on the four Sundays and even if we light a wreath at home or try to read a daily meditation it can be difficult not to get pulled into the commercial Christmas atmosphere. Sometimes our churches are not even safe. A few years ago I was invited to a parish to celebrate Mass on the First weekend of Advent. I was shocked when the choir sang as a final hymn, Silent Night! I foolishly said at the end of mass that the choir was obviously anxious to get to Christmas and the choir leader told me he was hugely insulted by my comment.
So is there anything we can do to bring Advent off life support and give it back meaning as a season of waiting with great anticipation and expectation for something wonderful to happen?
It is difficult being the outsider, the one who is ‘different’ ‘folding dishtowels when others are folding nappies’”
I’m not sure there is but this year I have decided to make a new effort by reflecting more deeply with some of the characters who were unwittingly so significant in that drama leading up to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
People like Mary who must have been scared out of her wits by what God was asking of her. Joseph who always seems to have been left out and yet was expected to cooperate with what was going on around him.
Anna, the old lady who went to the Temple every day hoping to meet the Messiah, a woman of faith who had been tested by so many human blows and losses. And yet she remained faithful despite the losses and the doubts. She becomes a role model for all who are plagued by doubts and losses especially at Christmastime.
Another figure is Elizabeth. In a very real sense Elizabeth was marginalised. In a society that valued children and saw a woman’s principal role as being a child-bearer God had closed her womb. Being childless meant that she would be ostracised among the women of her village.
It is difficult being the outsider, the one who is ‘different’ ‘folding dishtowels when others are folding nappies’. Elizabeth was on the margins and she had to live with it. Had God abandoned her?
Then one day late in her life, she felt a stirring in her body and then her young cousin Mary comes to visit and these two women celebrate God breaking into their lives. Elizabeth speaks to all of us who at times feel we are on the margins.
No matter what others think we are noticed by the one who counts. Elizabeth gives me Advent Hope. Herself and the other characters in this Advent drama will be my companions this year and I can only hope they will focus me daily in the midst of all the enticing distraction!
A Higher Calling!
At school two little girls were talking about their roles in the nativity play. “I’m going to be the virgin” one announced smugly. “That’s nothing” replied the other, “I’m going to be an angel.” “Well my mammy says it’s much harder to be a virgin,” retorted the first.
A thought for the new Church year
“A fire does not burn by itself; it has to be fed or else it dies; it turns into ashes. If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that “this is the way things have always been done”, then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo.” Pope Francis.