To pray does not imply that without prayer God would not give us anything or that He would be unaware of our needs, but it has this great advantage, that in the attitude of prayer the soul is best fitted to receive the Giver of blessing as well as those blessings He desires to bestow. Thus it was that the fullness of the Spirit was not poured out upon the Apostles on the first day, but after ten days of special preparation. If a blessing were conferred upon one without a special readiness for it, s/he would neither value it sufficiently nor long retain it.
— Sadhu Sundar Singh
So this is the Christmas Season. Or should I say, the “Giftmas” season. It just so happens that the Giftmas Season overlays, and therefore clobbers, the season of Advent.
Advent, which started last Sunday, is a four week period of preparation that Catholics and other liturgical traditions observe leading up to Christmas. It is time set aside to allow us to get our hearts, minds, and souls ready to receive the Gift of the Incarnate God in the form of Jesus Christ. It’s a time for each of us to do whatever it takes to get ready for Him. For some of us, penitence is required. For others fasting. For all of us, prayer.
And it’s darn hard to do that when everybody’s singing “Silver Bells” and exchanging gifts and having Giftmas parties. It’s hard to fast, to empty one’s self to make room for Christ, when everyone’s pushing Giftmas cookies. Giftmas makes Advent that much harder.
And Advent takes away some of the enjoyment I get from Giftmas. While everyone’s singing, “Tis the season to be jolly. Fa lalalala lala la la.” I’m thinking, “Not yet, but soon.” People tell me “Merry Christmas!” and I think, “Not yet, but soon.” Of course I reply, “Merry Christmas.” I’m no Scrooge. I will enjoy Giftmas. I’m going to a Giftmas party this Friday, as a matter of fact. But I have to make an effort to remember which holiday I’m celebrating. And not give my Advent preparation short shrift. So I keep thinking, “Not yet, but soon.”
My lovely wife, a few years back, spent hours making a Jesse Tree out of felt. It is about the size of a tapestry in Church and has a big tree and a quote from Isaiah, “And a shoot shall come from the root of Jesse…” And then there are 28 brightly colored, velcro-backed “fruits” on which are depicted emblems representing the stories of Creation, Noah, Moses, Jacob, Ruth, Tobias, and many of the other stories of the Old Testament that lead up to Jesus. So along with readings and prayers, and Advent wreath lighting at dinner, we read one story from the Old Testament and put that “fruit” on the tree. The kids, especially Girlzilla, like the Jesse Tree. This is heirloom stuff.
So along with Advent Wreaths and Advent Calendars and the Jesse Tree, we pray and try not to jump the gun too much. We try not to let our Advent get trampled under our Giftmas shopping and celebrations.
Dave Trowbridge brought up in another context the metaphorical example of “stroking the gong” (stop it, you.) Apparently a gong player has to get the gong resonating at the right frequency so that it makes the right sound when he hits it. This is exactly what I need to do — get my soul resonating at the right frequency to make a more joyful noise when Christ arrives. Good one, Dave. That is a very good image for Advent.
And then there’s the metaphor of Light. Christ is the Light that has come into the world. And so we need to examine the dark corners in our hearts and souls and bring them into the Light. This is what makes Advent a penitent season, almost like a mini Lent. Of course you are supposed to continually do this, but, just as you always clean deeper before important company comes by, we “clean deeper” during Advent. Getting ready for Jesus.
I almost always meditate with a lit candle. During Advent, it has come to me that I should meditate with an unlit candle, to concentrate on my own dark corners that need better lighting. On Christmas Day, though, I will meditate with not just a lit candle, but with a bunch of candles, as many as I can find and safely have lit all at once. I will buy special incense for that day. I will soak in the light and the fragrance and linger in the Joy and Love and Life of Christ.
Not yet, but soon…