Back when I was a young priest, all those 6 years ago, I was so zealous. I was relentless about the traditions, especially about our calendar.
Like it or not, our traditions dictate preserving Advent as it’s own, distinct season. The colour is blue. No greenery, no carols are sung, and no Christmas tree. While the rest of the world is trying to convince us that the Christmas season begins the day after Hallowe’en, we will hold Advent in it’s place.
Then, while the rest of the world is resting, taking a couple of weeks to travel, snuggle in with family, we WILL celebrate! We will sing carols in January, even if we don’t feel like it. Because that’s the Anglican tradition for Advent and Christmas.
It is a beautiful way to mark the days before Christmas. Much like Lent, we take time for silence, reflection and awareness. The hymns of Advent are ancient, O Come, O Come Emmanuel and O Come Divine Messiah. The tone is of longing.
Then, on Christmas, the church explodes in candlelight and Glorias! the answer to our longing comes, the Christ Child, incarnate and perfect, full of promise for a broken world. We leave our worship in the truth that nothing will ever be the same, because of Emmanuel, God With Us.
I love Advent. And I tried to instill that love of a quiet season in my people. I hoped they would give it a chance, just one year, and understand how beautiful Christmas can be.
But the holidays are stubborn. Sales are obsessive. Families are demanding and parties with friends and coworkers fill up the three weeks we have. No wonder our preparations bleed earlier and earlier into November, and, even, October.
And I just got crankier. Insisted on not putting any lights up, keeping our churches bare. When people declared the Christmas season began with the children’s toy drive in mid-November, I would pompously declare that Christmas does not begin until Advent is complete.
The more years went by, starting before I was ordained, before I was even in seminary, the more stubborn I got. About three years ago, I noticed something. While I was busy demanding we keep a quiet Advent, frankly, getting cranky, others were quite cheerful. People were collecting food and toys for families in need. Children were looking in awe at Christmas lights. And, to be honest, everything did look awfully beautiful. I realized that, while everyone was, generally, pretty cheerful and generous, I was just getting grumpy. And I didn’t want to be anymore.
Advent is a season of preparation. I began to see the parties, the gift exchanges, even the sales and the parades, as a kind of preparation, reminding me to be joyful, hopeful, peaceful and loving in a really hectic and busy time. Growling at people to not put their lights up was not terribly loving. There certainly was not a lot of peace in my advent soul. I had lost touch with the sense of wonder that does actually unite the people of the Western world at this time of year. I was a Grinch.
So, yes, I have relaxed a lot. I maintain my traditions at home. I confess I put my blue sparkly nail polish on a week early, but my lights are waiting until this weekend. My tree goes up the week before Christmas (my birthday tradition), and I keep an Advent prayer practice. When I have to find my way to the mall or stores, I try to bring peace and love into very hectic lives. More often than not, people share their peace with me. And I am thankful that, for about 6 weeks out of 52, the people around me are a little more generous to those in need, even if it is need of an egg nog latte.