November 29, 2013

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

A faith-filled Advent can broaden our hopes for Christmas

Sean GallagherI’ve found that the older my five sons get, the more specific their Christmas wish lists become.

It used to be when Michael, 11, and Raphael, 8, were younger, they were happy with just about anything that they received.

I can even remember Raphael being excited by getting clothes for Christmas one year—quite a contrast from my reaction when I received a similar Christmas gift when I was his age.

Now it’s a little different. Michael definitely has certain Lego sets in mind that he’d like to see under the tree on Christmas morning. And I’ve found that he’s meeting with Raphael to help him figure out what specific Lego set he should ask for.

I have to pause and smile before I try to temper their hopes and broaden their horizons a little. I took pretty much the same approach to my Christmas wish list when I was their age.

Nonetheless, I feel it my duty as their father to help them consider alternatives—like the kind of Legos I played with as a child, which are basically still available today.

They were colorful building blocks with which you could build just about anything, not just a specific Star Wars spaceship or Lord of the Rings movie scene.

No matter how persuasive I think my advice might be, however, I foresee my sons pretty much standing firm in their hopes in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Maybe that’s one of their ways to observe Advent, which has been described as a season of hope.

Thankfully, it’s not the only way that Advent is a part of our family life in December.

When we sit down for a family supper during Advent, we’ll start it with the usual meal blessing prayer. At the end of that prayer, however, we’ll pray together, “Come Lord Jesus.”

Then we’ll bring out our Advent wreath, place it in the center of our table, light the requisite number of candles on it and turn off the dining room lights. We then sing a verse from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Finally, we have one of our boys open up a door on a homemade Advent calendar. Behind each door is either a drawing of a saint whose feast is that day, an Advent or Christmas symbol or the various “O Antiphons” that are prayed in Evening Prayer from Dec. 17-23—and which serve as the basis for the verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

We also wait to decorate our house for Christmas until Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, which features the joy that is part of our waiting for the coming of Jesus. That’s a good bit after we see Christmas decorations going up on other houses, let alone retail stores.

The Christmas decorations that start filling our house that day are meant to be an expression of that joy.

Hopefully, over time, this faith-filled approach to the weeks leading up to Christmas will help broaden the hopes of our sons for the upcoming celebration of Christ’s birth.

Given the growing secularized and commercialized approach to Christmas, it’s never too early to lay the foundation for this countercultural perspective on this holy day. It’s one which I am convinced will lead to a celebration of Christmas filled with a far deeper and long-lasting happiness than a Lego set could ever provide. †

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