Do you hear that friends? It’s the ring, ting, tinkling of sleigh bells accosting your ears in the grocery store and at the bank. Seems like October 31st at the stroke of midnight stores ditched the monsters and ghosts and brought out the evergreens – a violent shove from ghoulish orange and black to jolly red and green. Forget Remembrance Day or Thanksgiving (if you’re American). Christmas comes November 1st. Ads are touting snow-filled, fire-lit scenes, while outside my window everything’s lumpy grey-brown with a smattering of frost and rain. The malls are filling up and the patrons are getting grumpier by the second. Festivities, large and small, have been underway for weeks now.
Does it all feel a touch too early?
It just seems as if there is no time to breath between seasons. There’s no time to just be, to wait for nature to take its course or for the quiet subtleties of the changes to settle into our souls.
Not only do we wake up from our Halloween sugar-highs, to a holly, jolly Christmas, but there is also a certain materialistic hysteria that’s created in these weeks leading up to December 25th. “You only have 30 more shopping days until Christmas!!! Did you hear that, THIRTY!!! You had better get out there and BUY, BUY, BUY!!” And we wonder why we’re exhausted before we even get to Christmas Day, then left dreading the (real) Christmas Season.
In her book “Reed of God” Caryll Houselander describes Advent as the “season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence.”
What does she mean the season of the secret? She means that this time of Advent is given to us to contemplate Christ’s own gestation, the 9 months he spent in Mary’s womb. Everything Mary did in her daily life went to growing Christ Jesus inside of her. “Working, eating, sleeping, she was forming His body from hers. His flesh and blood. From her humanity she gave Him His humanity. …Every beat of her heart gave Him His heart to love with, His heart to be broken by love.” (p.28)
Ironic, isn’t it, that this season of Advent, which so easily becomes full of hysteria, is actually the season of silence and secret growth?
And according to Houselander, this season is “absolutely essential” to our contemplation and growth. “If we have truly given our humanity to be changed into Christ,” she says, “it is essential to us that we do not disturb this time of growth. It is a time of darkness, of faith. We shall not see Christ’s radiance in our lives yet; it is still hidden in our darkness; nevertheless, we must believe that He is growing in our lives; we must believe it so firmly that we cannot help relating everything, literally everything, to this almost incredible reality.” (p. 29)
We, like Mary, are growing Christ within ourselves, with everything that we are doing in our daily lives, and that growth requires a season of darkness, just as the seed requires a dormancy period in order to flower and produce fruit. So Advent is our chance to look inwards, to recognize that Emmanuel is near, and to bring Him out into the world in a new way. Because He is utterly dependent upon us to take him to the corners of this world where He might never gain access.
“Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile.” (p.31)
How many places do we consciously carry Christ with us? Do we take him to the mall and smile at people there, showing God’s people, in a very small way, the Lord’s mercy and love? Are we calm and present while going about our business? What about to Church, or to family gatherings? Are we kind, charitable and patient with our closest friends and family? How often do we treat those the worst whom we profess to love the most?
As nature retracts, gathers itself in and burrows down deep into the earth once again in preparation for winter, at the same time we are given the space and silence to dig deep within ourselves, and to reflect on an infant whose birth was so spectacularly universe-altering that even the stars were proclaiming him. Advent reminds us, in a subtle and secret way, that we mustn’t forget this exceptional babe who was born in Bethlehem, especially with the mania we call the “Christmas Season” raging all around us.
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