November 18, 2010

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas . . .

I remember the day I was flying home from the east coast on Halloween and as I was getting off the plane I heard on the muzak the first Christmas carol of the season.

Living with a retailer (my wife runs the Cathedral Shop at St. Mark’s Cathedral), I know that the Christmas season actually begins in July with the ordering, planning, and preparing for a five-week run from Thanksgiving to Dec. 25 when stores need to earn a third of their income for the entire year.

The culture leans into Christmas this year with a little less cheer than usual. Tough times and tightened belts take the air out of our society’s spend fest this upcoming season was until the Great Recession. Maybe, finally, the world will do what Christians seek to do in the weeks leading up to the holiday; watch and wait in silence.

How to help our people walk a slower walk?

Changes in the liturgy – less singing, more silence – set the tone. A special Advent program – ours this year is Advent Haiku taught by Margaret D. McGee, author of Haiku - The Sacred Art and Sacred Attention: A Spiritual Practice for Finding God in the Moment-- helps establish an alternative frame for days.

Our church school hosts its Jesse Tree session. We also hold a quiet day based on Centering Prayer in the middle of the season.

The Advent wreaths are made in community the week before Advent starts and each family is sent home with a family ritual that sustains them in the four weeks that await us.

Advent, like any season, is observed in its practice. We practice Advent. Mindfulness can take any of these and other disciplines and give us a strength to resist the consumer rituals that surround us. Commercial Christmas complicates our spiritual path in this season given the far-reaching shadow of companies capitalizing on this time in order to make a profit. But in a season as rich in symbols as Advent, a different path is possible.

This path leads us to the Feast of the Incarnation. We are not in a season of waiting just for the sake of waiting. Advent can help us buck the cultural pressures and prepare us once again for the birth of Christ when the wait is over.