Early this month we had our annual December discussion. The male side of the relationship wants to edge the house with eye-catching lights that flash at intervals and, as usual, I would rather their installation waited until Christmas Eve. And there you have it – an image of the two sides of my Advent.
Sometimes it seems as though I am swamped by people who believe that the four weeks of December are about Father Christmas and shopping. December in Australia is the frantic end time of the year. From mid-November lights and baubles have dazzled my eyes, my ears have tried to tune out the same seasonal songs that play in every store, my head is filled with lists of things to do and buy. There are Christmas parties, school breakups, the joys or angst of gift shopping and that perennial, whose turn is it to ‘do’ Christmas this year?
Then the Church liturgy tells me it’s Advent and focuses on God’s presence in the world, then, now and in the future.
I am caught between opposing cultures. Do I spend December preparing to celebrate Christ’s presence in the world? Or do I celebrate Christmas by anticipation until the day after Christmas, when the last bit of wrapping paper is stuffed in the bin and I ponder ways to use up left over Christmas pudding?
There’s a tension in following Christ and it comes to the forefront in seasons like Advent and Christmas. For more years than I like to recall, the liturgical seasons of Advent, Lent and Easter have exerted a kind of push-pull in me, something like theology versus society, or Church versus ‘the world’. How much and in what way should I show my beliefs and express my faith?
In my lead up to Christmas with all its expectations, God can take a back seat. I receive cards with wildly inappropriate graphics and greetings from people I would assume know better. I search through the children’s section of two large bookstores and find a variety of books featuring Father Christmas, but only one that tells Luke’s story of the first Christmas. TV offers something called “Twelve Ways to Christmas” – ways to shop, decorate, cook and wrap – that will guarantee your Christmas sparkles. There’s even another show that helps you “choose the booze to give you Christmas spirit”.
I take heart from the fact that the first Christmas was full of contradictions. The Son of God born to unimportant parents and cradled in a manger. A Messiah heralded by centuries of prophesies, but unrecognised except by night shepherds and some travelling astronomers. A middle-Eastern child born in an occupied country. We invest God with power and might, but the God who is born into our world at Christmas is not the God of power, but the God of helplessness and vulnerability. The rules of how things should be don’t apply.
It’s said often that Christmas is for children. Not so! Advent and its culmination are very adult. I will remember that as I negotiate, and enjoy, the jumble of images and symbols and celebrations that make up my Advent and spill over into Christmas Day.
And yes, our house is twinkling with Christmas lights.