There are three camps when it comes to the proper time to begin to celebrate Christmas. In one camp, albeit a very small one, are the purists who show no hint of Christmas until the eve of December 25th. This group cherishes the unique character of Advent, a time of preparation and waiting. At the other end of the spectrum is the faction that begins to trot out the holiday decorations and music even as they are packing away the scarecrows, pumpkins and costumes. The third group consists of those folks who are just as comfortable with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” as they are with “Joy to the World”.
You likely have family and friends who fall into one of these categories. One of my co-workers is a purist. In her home, Advent does not yield to the pressures of neighbors with inflatable Santas and laser lights or the 24/7 holiday radio stations.
In our parish, to the dismay of some purists, swags of pine and the Nativity set, baby Jesus and all, and have been out for weeks. The pastor reminds everyone that we are not doing a reenactment of the first Christmas, where statues of Star-guided wisemen are positioned slightly closer to the manger each day until the Feast of the Epiphany, rather, it is a representation that should instill thoughts of the reason for the season.
Growing up as a youngster in the 50’s and 60’s, our family fell into the middle category. Oh, we decorated and even would take tins of homemade Christmas cookies to older relatives who were greeted at the door by twenty plus carolers doing their best version of Stille Nacht, but my parents always held back one important piece of the yuletide, the Christmas tree. Sometimes there was a room closed off until Christmas Eve, other times there was a sheet hung strategically over the corner where Tannenbaum would magically appear bedecked with tinsel, lights and fragile glass ball ornaments. To the best of my knowledge, neither myself or any of my 4 brothers and 3 sisters ever ventured into the closed room or lifted the sheet to explore a bit. I doubt that our lack of curiosity was because we were such good kids, but more likely there was some admonishment to the effect, “you never know when Santa might be in there working.”
At least Liturgically, we are forced to stay in the season of Advent. The four week journey to Christmas is marked by the lighting a new candle each week on the Advent wreath. The selection of hymns bear the familiar themes of longing, waiting and the Baptist making ready the way of the Lord.
If you are not quite ready for Christmas and are still in Advent mode, why not reflect a hymn whose original text dates back to at least 275 AD? “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” is a crossover hymn that serves well in both the Advent and Christmas seasons. Gerard Moultrie gave us the current version with his 1800’s paraphrasing of the text. The words touch the soul and the melody invokes sense of the sacred and the holy. While you may not hear the word “vanguard” too many times in everyday conversation (yeah, I had to look it up), the hymn invites you to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation. The song builds to a climax where we find the angels in eternal praise –
While there are many online resources to listen to this beautiful hymn, you will not be disappointed if you make your way to the YouTube video by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Links are below to their video and to their website, in case you’d like to know a bit more about this religious community of women.
So, despite how you merge or keep Advent and Christmas separate, the one blessing we all share is the undeserved and joyous gift of Emmanuel, God with us. May we join the chorus of heavenly hosts in exclaiming, “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”