Thursday, December 10, 2009

Peace Love ... no, this is not a Gap commercial

It started with a funny look - Cowboy quizically gazing at me as though trying to comprehend what I'd just said: "the chocolates aren't for me, I need to fill the boys' advent calendar." I returned the confused look, unsure what the problem was. And then I smiled - "Oh, you think it's crazy that I am buying candy for an advent calendar when my sons are 17 & 20, don't you!" Rapid agreement. Rapid reply - "you don't stop a tradition."

In fact though, my personal history of advent, and advent calendars, is relatively short. It is one I adopted sometime in the 90's, buying a pocketed felt snowman to track (and treat) the countdown to Christmas - to acknowledge and encourage the anticipation of the day, as though that was necessary in a house filled with greenery, readings of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and frequently smells of fresh cookies baking.

But like most commercialised traditions, chocolates and calendars are cheap simulacra for the deeper meaning of advent. I suppose that in the evangelical churches of my youth, advent was considered too ritualistic and even (horror of horrors) too Catholic to be observed. So I was 20 when I first remembering celebrating the lighting of the purple and rose candles. And learned to pause in the Christmas month to think about what the season meant. And while I'd always believed Jesus was 'the reason for the season,' as many a Christian bookstore stocking stuffer proclaimed, it was the liturgy of advent that taught me what that trite sentiment really meant. In the Baptist church I married into, the 4 weeks of advent were focused on Hope (or Expectation), Peace, Love and Joy - and to spend an hour each week reading, singing and reflecting on those changed everything else about Christmas for me.

I now know that the theme of advent services varies from practice to practice, although they are always the 4 Sundays before Christmas, and always centre on the advent, or coming, of Christ into the world. But that initial experience has stuck with me, whether I'm attending church during advent season or not. And cheap and commercialised though they may be, the chocolates remind me. And the calendars remind me. To pause, and to reflect, and to remember that the hope, peace, love and joy of the season are not accidental. And that stopping to think about them is as worthwhile as all the hustle and bustle I normally engage in for the month of December.
So my sons are inevitably growing older. And they may not see why that silly felt Snowmen still matters to me. And Cowboy may smile patiently, believing that I'm clinging to my sons' childhood. But when I walk out in the door in the morning and see the Snowman with another empty pocket. I know. And I smile, and I think about hope, love, peace & joy.

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