The end-of-year holidays are stressful enough with family and religious obligations, especially in an interfaith family such as mine. But add on to it secular peculiarities like garish Christmas songs as early as Halloween, or worse yet, Passover Matzah sold with Hanukkah candles and you can understand how “Season’s Greetings” isn’t really an attack on the “Keep Christ in Christmas” sentiment. It’s just the reality of an un-anchored consumer culture.
Jewish & Catholic Rituals
For my Jewish wife and me, the overlapping of Hanukkah and Advent preparations for the Incarnation is a time to celebrate the power of light in a season of shorter days and longer, colder, darker nights. Although we also become feverish with holiday shopping, party planning, and home decorating, it is good to share the simplicity of lighting candles and gathering in prayer. Jews and Christians share an experience of God working in history on our behalf symbolized in the candles we light and the prayers and rituals that surround them.
Hanukkah and Advent/Christmas force us to attend to the magnitude of God’s outreach. What was thought only enough for a day becomes more than enough. It is a sign of God’s abundant care for us against those who would harm us, against the darkness, against being dispossessed. The Hanukkah lights rekindle in us God’s enduring covenant with Jews. While Advent candles count down the Sundays before Christmas, the liturgy that surrounds them also spills forth abundantly with prophecy and promise. God’s eternal love enters into human history, speaks to handmaidens, leaps in wombs and grows to walk in human footsteps. God truly with us!
Prepare the Way
To celebrate Advent this year, I purchased All Creation Waits on recommendation from Paraclete Press. It echoes a book I purchased years ago for my daughter when she first entered the catechumenate at this same time of year. Each day of Advent is associated with an animal. A woodblock ink-print captures its image. A short reflection of the animal’s life follows, with parallels to our Advent preparations. The natural world, so readily available to an attentive child, opens to reveal a connection to the divine and the spirit of the season that births God’s surprise.
Each evening I read the animal of the day with my daughter. Now that she is 11 years old, a bedtime story isn’t always a welcome thing. But the simplicity of the chapter and its focus on nature has proven a simple enough ritual. Early lovers of animals, we still learned things we did not know. Chickadees’ brains grow to store all their seed locations. A brown bat’s heart slows to 14 beats per minute while wintering.
Combined with an Advent calendar that yields a different chocolate each day, we journey step by step with God’s word and promise. In the middle of Advent, the day after my birthday, we lit the menorah. God’s people and their story more brightly illuminates our Bethlehem journey, sustaining and enabling it. We are like the other earthly creatures, preparing in due time to be amazed by God’s creativity. All creatures gathered and glory shown round about.
What do you do as an individual, a couple, a family to prepare?
How do you open yourself to the surprises of the divine in this preparation season?
Copyright 2017 Jay Cuasay