December 12, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Celebrating Advent or trappings, Christmas is a promise

Cynthia DewesChestnuts roasting by an open fire. Wassail steaming in the cup. Carolers warbling outside your window, not to mention figgy pudding and wretchedly poor Dickens characters being rescued from their miserable existence. These are some of the things we hear about during the pre-Christmas holidays.

The trouble is that most of them are strictly 19th century, if not medieval, concepts. I mean, where can you find a chestnut to roast nowadays or who would give up his convenient gas log for an open fire? For that matter, whose stomach is strong enough to take wassail or whatever that figgy thing is?

Come to think of it, with the economy the way it is, some of us may join those Dickens types in the poorhouse at some point.

But seriously, this pleasant, if rather irrelevant, lead-up to Christmas Day always evokes a sense of generosity, plenty and hope. It happens every year, at least since I have been around, and is certainly appropriate to the season.

The best part of waiting for Christmas, however, is the holy time of Advent. This wonderful opportunity for spiritual preparation and enlightenment seems practically unknown outside religious circles these days. Like doing penance, it has largely fallen out of favor in our feel-good-about-ourselves culture.

The idea of preparing ourselves for the holiday by considering the purpose of life or a moral changeover in ourselves is simply not on most people’s agendas.

Rather, they are caught up in gifts and food and entertainment. Santa Claus, Rudolph of the red-nose, and trips to Cancun or Aspen seem to trump the baby Jesus at every turn.

So how should we be spending the weeks before Christmas? Surely there is nothing wrong with the usual fun things we do. But if we think about the holiday as even more than generosity, peace and good will toward everyone, we might be surprised at the added richness of our experience. We might even “meet” Jesus for the first time.

When God enters our world as a human person, that is a big deal. Easter, the death and resurrection of God as Savior, is the ultimate feast, but Christmas is the one that has to precede it. In effect, it is the beginning of our redemption story, and certainly worth a huge celebration.

Christmas is more than feeling expansive and generous, more than simpering angels and cherubs admiring a cute infant.

Rather, it means we can hope. Instead of miring ourselves in the sins of the past or the problems of the present, we can look forward with confidence to ultimate joy and affirmation.

No matter what age we live in, the world seems to be full of problems. If it isn’t war, it is famine, natural disaster, political oppression, genocide, greed or just plain human meanness.

It extends all the way from international schemes and national imperatives to dysfunctional families and unnatural practices, such as killing babies before they are born.

Christmas marks God’s intervention into such human madness. With Christ the Son, we are invited to believe that we can be better than that. Christ’s radical message is that, despite human failings, good will prevail if we let it.

We need to respond to God’s invitation and keep the faith. Sometimes we will need to go against popular culture, always remembering God’s promise.

Christmas is a joyous time because of the possibilities it presents. Let’s all pour a cup of wassail and drink to that!

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

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