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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Tupperware and Tinsel

Well, the cranberry chutney is safely in the fridge, and the tree stands alight in the living room. Time for my annual reflections on Advent, popularly known in the secular world as "the Christmas season."

I've heard criticisms in the past of the celebrating and frivolity that accompanies Advent, and the criticisms have some merit. Advent is a season of liturgical preparation, of waiting; it's a purple, penitential season. Yet the world calls us to dress up in sparkly clothing, drink rum and eggnog, eat fudge, and revel at the annual company party. There certainly is a dichotomy between the secular world and the liturgical calendar. Should we avoid the celebrations and just do penance? Should we skip the penance and reflections and pour another glass of champagne? Or is there a way to live in the world but still keep ourselves focused on what the Church and the faith have to offer us?

I believe there is. Once more I find myself rotund with child as Christmas approaches, and once more I can't help feeling some connection between waiting for Peanut and waiting for Jesus. I feel her kicking all day long now, and my wee one is a constant, joyful reminder of life. I can't help remembering that Jesus existed, also, for nine months before He made His appearance in the light of the world. A part of me wants very much to celebrating His hidden-from-view humanity now, like rejoicing at the sound of approaching footsteps of a loved one that I cannot yet see.

Every year as Advent begins, I remember a church tour that my old parish's RCIA gave to the catechumens and candidates. Jean, who was leading the tour, brought the class to where the vestments hung. She explained the colors of the different vestments as she pointed them out. Tongue in cheek, she said "This one is Lenten Purple," as she pointed to a purple chasuble. Then, pointing to a blue, "and this one is Advent Purple."

I don't want to see the liturgical season watered down to cater to the desire for revelry. It is good to spend some time in solemn reflection and waiting. But I do still dearly love the season. Jesus said "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men..." I do not think that looking either holy or miserable furthers our cause before the Lord or honors His nativity. We need to be moderate in our behaviors, especially during this penitential time; and it seems a very good idea to make sacrifices or increase our devotion to Christ to prepare our souls to receive Him. But I do not see why we should not be joyful at the same time.

Advent is a tremendous time to count our blessings. St. John of the Cross taught repeatedly that as we lessen our attachments to unimportant things, the things of the world, we eliminate the hindrances that create stumbling blocks on our path to God. Gratitude and genuine thanksgiving are not worldly attachments, but reminders of our dependence on God. I believe that as long as we approach Advent with this attitude, there is no reason that penitence need interfere with our joyful anticipation of His greatest gift of all.