Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Growing up in a Lutheran family whose parish observed the liturgical calendar of the church's year, I remember with gratitutde that my family and friends postponed any "real" celebrations of Christmastide until Christmas Day itself. That is, we observed the preparatory season of Advent with some rigour. Hence, the Christmas tree was put up on Christmas Eve, and we celebrated the Twelve Days of Christmas, taking down the Christmas tree on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), cutting it up, and saving the wood of the trunk for making the Lenten cross that would be hung on the dining room wall during Lent. To this day I don't listen to a whole lot of Christmas music through most of December, and I feel a tad uncomfortable with the church's pushing Christmas up a couple of Sundays just because our consumer-oriented culture wants a pre-Christmas profit. Moreover, I'm saddened that the "tide" has been taken off Christmas so that the celebration lasts for only twenty-four hours. The church, it appears, has little more to say about the Incarnation, after December 25. Have any of you come from similar liturgical tradtions and do you have something of the same reflections?


Blogger Gene Kleppinger said...

I grew up knowing almost nothing about the significance of Advent. That seems fairly strange because my growing up happened in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, "Christmas City of the USA." The city lights included prominent Advent candle displays (one lit per week). But in our own church (of the non-Pentecostal holiness tribe) we sang the regular carols all December and had a big choir cantata/pageant every year, culminating on Christmas Sunday. At my home we kept our decorations (including an Advent candle wreath) up until Jan. 6, but I didn't learn much significance about that date except that it was my mother's birthday. There was never a season of reflective/meditative preparation; Christmas simply "arrived" soon after Thanksgiving (like the parades). The same attitude prevailed for Lent and Easter--Lent was simply a time to learn about what we knew was going to happen in a few weeks.

My first acquaintance with the liturgical significance of Advent came about through my seminary studies and through church-decorating practices at a Methodist church in Lexington, when I was about 24-25. I think it was very hard to see any reasons to "prepare" for Christmas (and similarly for Easter). I still think that is the case, but over the last 20 years I have tried to learn a discipline focusing on dramatic, expectant hope, wanting to let ACT I and ACT II get their full exposition before ACT III actually happens. It would be absolutely dreadful to attend a play where the actors cared nothing about developing the plot until the climax had already occurred. I guess that "getting the dollars spent" for Christmas has driven many people to ignore dramatic preparations. Screwtape (from C. S. Lewis) knew exactly how powerful drama could be, and that was why he counseled Wormwood to keep his patient's attention entirely on the glitzy superficial "stuff" of life.

Wednesday, 14 December, 2005  
Blogger Mason Smith said...

My home church also observed Advent, but it was an informal, casual affair, typical for a rather conservative Protestant congregation in a small town. We lit the Advent candles, but I can remember my grandmother whispering to my mother, "This new preacher is going to turn us all into a bunch of Catholics." Candles were deeply suspect. Also, I think out minister had made the mistake (in Grandmother's eyes) of quoting something in Latin.

More recently, I've become interested in issues like liturgical matters: I would like to be ready for the gift of Christmas in a way that Wal-Mart can't provide.

I've tried to do this privately with readings. For example, I found an interesting article in one of Philip Yancey's books on Revelation 12, the story of the woman and the dragon. Yancey suggested this was the Christmas story told from a Cosmic perspective. He said it was like the Normandy Invastion during WWII--a direct assault on the Kingdom of Evil.

I suppose I'm not a very sophisticated reader, but until I ran into that idea, I'd never thought of Revelation 12 in those terms. This and other readings have made my Christmas prayers a bit more directed.

But I'd like to see a bit more discipline in how we approach the holy season in church. At my point of life, I'm ready for that, and I think my children would benefit from it also.

Friday, 16 December, 2005  

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