Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. I love the carols, the decorations, the trees with their sparkling lights and shiny icicles. I love chocolates and candy canes and cookies and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. I love presents, both giving them and getting them. Every year I hang up the stocking my grandmother made me when I was a little girl, and wake up early to see what Santa has put under the tree.
But the Christmas season doesn’t actually begin the day after Thanksgiving, as our society would have us believe. It begins at sundown on Dec. 24, and it extends across the 12 days from Christmas Day until Epiphany, on Jan. 6. The weeks leading up to Christmas have been observed by Christians for thousands of years as the season of Advent. I believe in Advent.
Preparation and anticipation lie at the heart of Advent. The very word means “forthcoming, appearing.” Advent entails a special kind of preparation; it has less to do with checking off shopping lists, and more in common with the sort of deep breath you take right before you’re introduced to a distinguished visitor or the careful housecleaning you’d undertake before honored guests arrive.
Every year my children make an Advent calendar with one preparatory task for each day. Some are fun and frivolous: baking cookies to take around the neighborhood and making gifts for teachers. Some require effort: picking up litter around the schoolyard and sorting clothes to be given away. Some are simple: smiling at a stranger.
Preparations are also going on in that natural world all around us. The days are getting shorter, the nights darker. Trees shed their leaves, squirrels stock their nests. Everything is winding down, getting ready to rest, to listen.
Darkness. Quiet. This is what Advent demands. Simplicity and stillness lead us to turn inward and contemplate the lengthening darkness, the coming winter, and our own fragility and weakness. But there’s also a sense of anticipation, knowing that at the darkest, coldest, bleakest moment, when we feel most alone, there is a gloriously improbable eruption of light and warmth, when God entered the world as the Christ Child.
But in our society, we kill the darkness with a dazzling glare of multicolored lights. We overcome the silence with constant jangling carols. We resist the stillness with a frenzy of shopping and endless parties.
Is it any wonder that by Dec. 25 we are sick of Christmas?
So tonight, why not turn off the holiday music and the strands of lights; skip the Christmas special on television. There will be plenty of time for that during the 12 days after Christmas.
Instead, step outside, into the quiet, dark, still night and prepare yourself for what is coming.
Submitted by Lesley Knieriem
Parishioner at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Ark.