Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Paradox of Advent

I'm thinking there is a spiritual purpose to what I call the paradox of Advent.

Little Lent
Advent is a time in the Church where the priest and the altar wear purple--just like Lent.  It is a time when we do not sing the Gloria--just like Lent.  It is a sort of mini-penitential season with many parishes having Advent Penance services.  Our parish actually decorates the area in front of the altar in a Lenten desert motif, with cactus and similar things.  It does not put out any part of the creche until Christmas proper. 

There are years where I personally welcome such austerity.  It reminds me of the simple, impoverished circumstances into which our Savior chose to be born.  My Advent wreath at home was made by my husband.  Its base consists of a large, rectangular piece of wood that was part of his father's barn.  He drilled 4 holes into it with his grandfather's antique hand drill  Each year, the purple and pink candles are placed in it.

Some years, I leave it that way--a bare Advent "wreath" with just the candles--to remind me of the Christ Child in the animals' feeding trough.  Sometimes, I decorate it little by little as Advent progresses, putting greenery among the candles during the third week of Advent to symbolize the hope of Gaudete Sunday.

Don't Give up Hope
Other years, I give into the need for hope right away and festively decorate the wooden base with purple Christmas-themed baubles and greenery.

Every year, I put out all my manger scenes for the whole of Advent.  Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and wise men travel and wait for the Christ Child to be born.  This admittedly adds to the Christmas-type atmosphere and keeps the hope strong.  On Christmas Eve, I put out all my baby Jesus', all around the house. 

Modern Confusion
Our modern society adds to this paradoxical atmosphere of Christmas, whose secular season begins on Thanksgiving or before and abruptly ends on December 26th, with all Christmas music falling silent and decorations disappearing, while the Church continues to celebrate.  Religious people are often conflicted by the question of whether or not to include Santa in their children's celebrations and both Christians and non-Christians feel the commercial pressure to celebrate Christmas in a way that feels uncomfortable for them.

Christmas has been celebrated for centuries now, with a wide variety of traditions taking place within parishes all over the world that speak to the diversity of human need for a introspection and for hope. 

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Dymphna's favorite quotes

"Slavery ended in medieval Europe only because the church extended its sacraments to all slaves and then managed to impose a ban on the enslavement of Christians (and of Jews). Within the context of medieval Europe, that prohibition was effectively a rule of universal abolition. "— Rodney Stark

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