As a child, we never put our Christmas tree up until Christmas Eve. And then, my brother and I only helped put the lights on it and maybe the beads or some tinsel. It was the tradition that I put the angel on top year after year. (And this is the angel that sits atop my tree in my own home to this day). We would then go to bed, to awaken in the wee hours of the morning to see how Santa decorated the tree.
We never really celebrated Advent at home. We each had paper Advent calendars that began on December 1st. We would tape them to the outside of our bedroom doors. We had a Nativity set with camels, kings, shepherds and sheep. I don’t recall an Advent wreath at home, but I do remember the one we had at church. As a child, my focus during Advent was Christmas – Santa Claus, going to church as a family and then to one of my grandparents’ house for dinner and presents.
John and I followed a similar pattern with our children that still rings true today – with some changes. We have an Advent wreath. I have an extensive creche set with lots of animals and characters besides the traditional ones from scripture. That usually comes out mid-Advent. I also have a number of other “Holy Family” sets, which slowly appear around the house. My beautiful hand-carved one from Finland was used with the children at my home church, St. Matthew’s, on Advent 1 as I told the story of the Holy Family. Decorations don’t usually appear inside (or outside) the house until Advent 3 (outside) and Advent 4 (inside). As neighbors set the neighborhood aglow post-Thanksgiving and their trees appeared in their front windows soon after, our children always moaned about our being behind and not ‘in the spirit.’
We did something different this year. I don’t know why – empty nest syndrome hit me after Thankgiving, I think. We got our wreaths on Advent 2, strung them with lights as well as the lamp post, and put the electric candles in the windows. Tonight I plan to decorate the mantle. If my children, now grown, could be home now – they would think I’ve finally given in to the culture surrounding us. But my shopping is NOT done!
I enjoy reading Bishop Porter Taylor’s (Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina) weekly reflections. This week’s post really hit home for me and perhaps explains this mood I’m in:
I finally got into the garage attic and began decorating the house. No Christmas tree yet, but some cards and candles and a wonderful crèche scene by the Sewanee artist, Barbara Hughes. While the shepherds and animals are all around the manger, the baby isn’t there yet. He is traveling. In truth, I am not there yet, but I am asking for God’s grace to help me start the journey. Advent is such a holy season because it reminds us that much of the time our vocation as Christians is to move our feet in faith.
The journey is hard because it’s not about our being in control. Joseph and Mary have no GPS; they have no guides; they aren’t Silver Preferred travelers. They are walking in the dark guided by the stars. They are moving towards the birth that has been promised. They do not know how everything is going to work, they just know the next step. They just hold onto God’s promises because their faith is in God not their understanding. I keep coming back to this Advent journey and our walk of faith, and I know that this walk is always about surrender.
At some point we hand everything over to God. That is to say, I don’t think our deepest need is for new programs or new information or new technology. All of those are useful. However, our deepest need is to remember who God is. Then we can ask ourselves where we are called to go and move.
These recollections orient our lives and clarify our priorities. In addition, they remind us that we only come closer to the divine reality as we let go of our death grip on our life. In the 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.” As our false self is put to death, Christ himself shines through our ordinary lives.
That is our Advent journey. We travel towards Christ and we travel deeper into being Christ like. The birth is not merely a historical event but an ongoing transformation in all those who give their lives to Christ. This our journey. It’s time. Let’s us go to Bethlehem.
Advent blessings! Light those candles!
PS – Thanks to my cousin Darryl who recently shared the above photo via Facebook. Yes, that’s me, circa 1963 with Santa (my godfather and uncle) with the felt stockings hung with care (handmade by my grandmother), along with the Christmas wreath made from macaroni shells and pinecones purchased at the church Holiday Bazaar. Ah . . . the 60’s!