We’re a funny breed of people, we humans. We play a dirge, and we want others to mourn; we dance a jig, and we want them to clap time, but we don’t want to pay the piper, and we certainly do not want to dance to someone else’s tune.
At Christmas, we would like for others to be just about as much in the mood for the event as we. More tinsel, more lights! Less commercials! More Hallmark movies … no, less Hallmark movies! Whatever became of the Christmas parade? Why are all these people blocking the street? Perhaps you know some who go “all out” at Christmas and others who barely acknowledge the event. I have two friends, very close friends, both dearly loved … one has a tree in every room, and one has been known to put hers up on Christmas Eve and take it down the afternoon of Christmas Day!
We regret and sometimes resent the commercialization of this holy season, but this is just about the last time of year that we want to fast or carve out extra time to spend with the Lord. We want Christmas to be quieter and simpler, but we don’t want to do without those time-consuming Christmas cookies that Aunt Nellie makes, and we certainly don’t want to pare very much away from Christmas “as we like it.”
What would it take to make this season merry and bright for the Lord our God? Well, it would take a miracle, because He is full of life and light and joy whether we maintain ours or not! But … how can we make Him smile as He watches us tear around trying to have a merry Christmas?
Today’s Advent Scripture is so very not Jingle Bells or Chestnuts Roasting … but it is as close to the Lord’s heart as it can be, based upon how many times and in how many ways He gave us this commandment while He walked among us. Take a look; perhaps you would hardly expect these words:
Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:33-37, NIV)
Can it be done? Can we turn our Christmas festivities into a watch party? It we are to rejoice in all things and to watch always (and we are,) then there is hope that we can be vigilant and with oil in our lamps during the twelfth month of the year. Watchful, prayerful, sober … and yet overflowing with joy.
How? How? How?
Here in Cor Unum, we have a default method, and it works every time.
Start with gratitude, dear ones. It seems to be no accident that Thanksgiving is the launch for the Christmas season! If our prayers do fall a little short during this month … and we will look together in hope that they won’t … but if they should, a month of Advent gratitude would not be a bad idea at all.
Let us make an Advent vow … you know, the kind the Lord likes, when we make no long promises but just say “Yes” to His Word … that we will give thanks, heartfelt thanks in all things during this season, but … hold a moment, dear friends.
We’ve done that before. Many of us have more good intentions than Aunt Nellie’s cookies have sprinkles. Advent is about making sure, and that’s why we so love it here in Cor Unum. We are all about making sure, and we feel sure that that is what we are supposed to do.
We have learned here in this Abbey that to make this happen, something else will have to be replaced. Who knows why, it’s just the way it is! Perhaps it is because we really do have to shift our loves, when all is said and done. Perhaps we won’t be able to read the paper until thanks have been given; perhaps we will have to disallow ourselves one of our favorite pastimes, small as ever it might be. The crossword puzzle. An unlimited Facebook perusal. Much as we hate to face the breach, we love the results of surrendering one half-hour television program, even just one, each day. It works so well! The half hour before the television goes on or before we power up our computers can absolutely change our devotional lives, and thus the lives of those for whom we pray.
When we meet in Chapter here in Cor Unum, we are continually mindful that we must be thankful on purpose, and the more we are, the more we find ourselves grateful accidentally and even irrationally, from the human perspective. Some of you know that here in Cor Unum, we have each a string of beads, and before the sun sets, thanks are given around the strand, each day. It’s a discipline! … and we wouldn’t trade it for all Christmas cookies in Aunt Nellie’s kitchen!
Oh, there’s so much more! Like Christmas itself, there are lots of layers to our watchfulness. The food, the friendship, the fun … the prayer, the praise, the penitence. It’s not easy to be watchful without gratitude, but it’s just as difficult while giving thanks to fail to develop a heart for prayer. All will come in time if we do not faint or lose heart.
So here’s a Christmas commercial for our monastic souls … “Only 23 days left until Christmas! Don’t be left out in the c-o-l-d! Warm your hearts and your hearths with the finest, with every yuletide cheer … call now! The Holy Spirit is standing by to fill your heart with gratitude! Join the thousands who will make this Christmas the best ever with the timeless gift of thankfulness. Only $19.95 … and if you call now …”
Oh my goodness … sorry! I got carried away … but I do so love the commercialization of Christmas, don’t you?
Jell-O ad, 1954