Greetings faithful readers!
I really wanted to write an advent reader for this year. I’d started an outline, started picking out artwork and music selections, started looking into the traditions that fill the 25 days from here until Christmas (and the days after). I even bought the domain names so it could sit on its own website.
Well, it’s not happening. That’s because a lot of real life happened. So I’m not ready for Advent.
But as I look at the calendar and sighingly beg the universe to give me just a few more extra weeks, I find an irony: not being ready for Advent is basically saying, “I’m not ready to get ready.”
Advent is not a time when we bring our put-together selves to something beautiful; Advent is a time when we put ourselves together for something beautiful.
I’ve not been in many wedding parties (I’m usually tasked with other, arguably more fun responsibilities like performing, DJ-ing or MC-ing), but the few times I have, the best part isn’t the rehearsal, or the rehearsal dinner, or the ceremony, or the reception. The best part, to me, is getting dressed.
While the bridal party will block out four to six hours for this, the groom and his men are assigned an hour. Sent to some out-of-the-way, spare room, the guys show up, garment bags slung over their shoulders and chorusing their baritone laughter. Somebody puts on music, somebody else starts passing around aerosol deodorant, somebody else makes crass jokes about stripping which eventually turns into almost-crass group photos.
As their t-shirted and boxered bodies begin layering on whatever the fashion-sense of the moment happens to be (tails, no tails; vests, no vests; fat ties, skinny ties; pleats, no pleats), they are transformed. They stand a little taller, swagger a little more, smile a little brighter. They become the suited eye-candy that will follows the groom to the alter, welcoming their gleaming counter-parts and ushers everyone into a night of eating, dancing, and flirting. A night of joy.
The guys aren’t perfect. Were it not for The Preparation, they’d be their same, smelly, self-centered, gruff selves.
Lent for December
A little known fact about Advent is that it is intended to mirror Lent. Both are, traditionally, seasons of repentance before the feast days (plural) of Christmas leading up to Epiphanies (the celebration of the Magi visiting Jesus, around the first week of January) that marks the beginning of “Ordinary Time”, which lasts until Lent and then we’re supposed to celebrate again on Easter.
This is in stark contrast to how Americans do this season. We have a feast day at Thanksgiving followed by several days of shopping and then a gauntlet of parties, concerts, and events until we finally crash into the afternoon of Christmas day, exhausted. Then it’s another few days until we stay up all night to welcome the New Year, waking up January 1st with a headache and the physical awareness of what the past six weeks of festivities hath wrought.
For whatever reason, the Western society of which we are a part has managed to invert these Holy Days, spending Advent in festivities and spending the twelve days of Christmas trying to commit to new disciplines.
We’re a strange people.
The Call to Preparation
But I think that’s a reason our holiday “season” can elicit groans: we’re never prepared for it. We never take the time to find an out-of-the-way room and get ready.
How do remember to find that room? Well, every wedding party to which I’ve been a member has always been on the business end of a call to preparation, a messenger calling the groomsmen to that out-of-the-way room. Whether in-person, or over the phone, or through text, there’s a deeply frustrated Prophetess proclaiming, “You guys! You need to get to the church and change!”
It’s that prophetic voice that is honored with the lighting of the first candle of Advent. The Prophecy candle: a celebration of that lone flame, shining in a dark room. The candle of faithfulness that knows what time it is and tries desperately to let the rest of world know, too.
Advent in Musical Art: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)
This traditional plainsong is the great hallmark of the Advent season.
For a classic. antiphonal performance, there’s this one from Christendom College Choir and Schola Gregoriana: Click here
For a more contemporary solo, give a listen to Haley Westernra: Click here
For something really out there, check out James
MacMillan’s deconstruction of the song, which is put into a concerto for percussion (seriously): Click here