“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
That was me. I dreaded the Christmas season. The noise. The confusion. The shopping. The busyness. The endless obligations. The money!
The problem …
Christmas showed me up in so many ways. It exposed my lack of cooking and hospitality skills. It revealed my total absence of decorating ability. It reinforced my reputation as a cheapskate. It revealed that my heart too, was two sizes too small. What to do?
and the answer …
Holy Mother Church provides the answer and the refuge: Advent. She also provides a concrete example: Mary. And I learned that the way to save my Christmas was to immerse myself into the season of Advent and the example of Mary.
Doing the opposite
Advent is the total antithesis of the commercial Christmas. It requires silence so one can think and ponder. It necessitates slowing down to make time for prayer and contemplation of the wealth of scripture from the psalms, Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, and from the first New Testament prophet, Mary.
Reflected in the liturgy
Advent requires simplicity and Sunday Mass reflects this. The church is devoid of decoration save an advent wreath while the liturgical celebration features music without organ accompaniment. We are reminded by the purple priestly vestment to examine our hearts and repent, returning our gaze once again upon the Lord.
I can say “no!”
Advent grants me permission to say “no” to busyness. I don’t have to go to every holiday party. I don’t have to spend endless hours in frantic shopping. If cooking and hospitality are not my gifts, get over it and find other ways to give. Time given to others is a very precious gift. Whether money is plentiful or short, gifts are worthless if not given with a generous dose of love.
Lots of wisdom from this girl
And so I take refuge in Advent. I start each day at the Advent wreath, praying in front of the lit candles and eating my breakfast. I listen to quiet spiritual music. I try fasting from certain foods and habits that disturb my peace (such as talk radio and nightly television).
I study the readings of each day and immerse myself in thoughts of Mary and the hopeful expectation she exhibited in accepting her role as Mother of God. Mary teaches me to hope as well. She teaches me how to trust God, to accept His will in all things no matter how crazy it may seem at the time (what’s crazier than accepting to be an unwed mother in an era when such women were stoned?). She teaches me the joy of obedience and the proactive nature of saying “yes” to God, opening the way to new adventures.
And slowly, but surely, a wellspring of joy and gratitude fills my Grinch-like heart. It turns from shriveled black to pulsating red. And just like the Grinch’s, it grows and grows until I can no longer contain it: it explodes and the graces spill out into the world.
There is power in the quiet.
Hidden away behind the noise and lights and parties is the power of Advent, the “forgotten” liturgical season. Hidden behind Santa Claus, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday is the knowledge that God condescended to us to become human so that we may become more like Him. He came to us as a helpless baby through an obscure young girl. Pondering this girl and her example saved my Christmas and changed my heart forever.
Does your Christmas need saving? What will you do to save it?
I gave a talk in 2009 on how Advent saved my Christmas which includes the performance of some of my Advent songs. You can listen to it here.
Copyright 2013 Susan Bailey