December 7, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Wait, wait, the best is yet to come

Cynthia DewesOur Methodist daughter-in-law tells me that her pastor is upset with so-called Christians who don’t seem to know the reason for the season.

That is, they’re more interested in decorating their church to be included in a charity “Christmas Church Tour” long before Dec. 25 than they are in acknowledging Advent.

One of our former pastors also used to bemoan the pre-Christmas flurry of frivolous commercialized events that go on every year. He reminded us annually that the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day and concludes 12 days later with the feast of the Epiphany. Pre-Christmas Day is reserved for Advent.

Advent means “coming,” as in—Hello! The Messiah isn’t here yet! Get ready! But still, most of us like the fun of shopping and decorating, baking and wrapping gifts. We would hate to give up the visits to Santa or watching It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street for the umpteenth time.

Well, especially when we have small children who need to be introduced to great religious mysteries through stories and pictures, all this preparatory fuss may actually be instructive. That is, as long as it is somehow connected to what Advent is about. We can work it in with aids like an Advent calendar, which mounts excitement without making an anticlimax out of the Big Event.

Sometimes the Advent season can seem a bit foreign to us freedom-loving Americans. We bristle at the idea of paying homage to an earthly king, and addressing someone as “Lord” is just not our style. So, talking about the coming of Christ the King, our Lord and Savior, may distract us from appreciating the season.

A king is a person who possesses ultimate control over our lives, the one who makes the rules for everyone and enforces them. We address the king as “Lord” because he’s “The Man.” But Christ is a spiritual king, and the ideal model for what an earthly king should be.

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament describe God’s promise of salvation in terms of kingship, which people of the time could understand. They “got” that the Old Testament text speaks of the original covenant, which will lead through obedient faith to the rewards of the Messianic age described in the New Testament.

Not only is God in control of our lives, making and enforcing the rules, but also God is lovingly interested in our welfare and anxious to help us attain our goals. In fact, that is the reason for the season: God comes as Christ, a human being, to show us humans the proper way and to sacrifice himself for our human sins.

We can understand the concept of God’s family when we retell the sweet story of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We can learn about God’s generosity when we hear again about the miraculous conception, birth and life of Christ, our brother, teacher and model. We can ponder God’s great love when we think about the sacrifice that Christ will make for us at the end of his earthly life.

During Advent, then, we remind ourselves of what we’re about in this life, and pray to do it better, fortified by Christ’s arrival. But it seems to me we also should enjoy the ­anticipation of this great mystery of grace and generous love.

If that means a dose of “Jingle Bell Rock” now and then, so be it.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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