Monday, December 2, 2013

The Advent Window, Revisited

Recently, I've seen online discussions about whether or not Christmas should be celebrated before the 25th.  In the Church, it's time for hearts to wait in hushed anticipation. In the world, however, things are not that way. We can barely walk out our doors without feeling "the attack of the glitz."

Last year, I wrote a post about a special - actually, THE MOST special - Advent in my life. I wasn't attending Church regularly in that long-ago Advent.  I was twenty years old and in what I've called my "I don't bother God and He doesn't bother me" phase. If pressed, I might have said I believed in God.  Probably.  Maybe.  The truth was:  I just didn't care.

That started changing as the world began its pre-Christmas celebrations in early December.  I wasn't talking to the Lord then, but it seems He used the clamor of the season as an opportunity to talk to me.

It was a month of non-stop reminders of the Reason for the season.  I almost couldn't get away from them.  Switching on a radio, I would catch an old familiar carol, one I'd heard every Christmas since childhood.  This time, however, the words sounded... different.

Sales clerks wished me merry Christmas.  A nativity scene was, as always, featured on the Court House steps, and that year I stopped more than once to notice.

As it turned out, that Advent was a pivotal time.  After doing a few things that I was at a loss to understand (choosing Christmas cards with Baby Jesus on them, taking notice of a song about Christ the Savior), I returned to Mass.  I thought more about God, and began to stammer out a few prayers.  Soon I was involved in a Catholic student center, where I would meet the wonderful young man I'd marry.. and the rest, as they say, is our history.

There are many people, right now, who are just as I was that Advent.  They may not spend much (if any) time in Church.  They might not be interested at all in God, but they're probably interested in Christmas.  They trim trees, string lights, watch Christmas movies, gather at parties, sing carols.  And in between "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "I'll Have a Blue ooh-ooh Christmas," they just might sing a few verses of "Silent Night."

It seems to me that in our secular, we're-doing-fine-by-ourselves world, there appears in this season an amazing and unique window of opportunity.

A slot.

A crack in the Everyday.

An opening through which the call of God might be heard through carol or card.   

In recent years, we have seen that crack narrow.  The Court House steps of my youth haven't seen a nativity display in years.  Store clerks wish me "happy holidays" at best. But even now, somewhere between shoppers lined up for black Friday and the queues awaiting after-Christmas sales, there is still a window of opportunity.  A time when someone rushing through a store might catch the strains of an old familiar carol, one she's heard every Christmas since childhood.   Yet this time, the words sound.... different.  She remembers pictures of a babe in a manger, and some part of her seems to thaw....

This is a season when we can acknowledge (like at no other time) the One Who was born for us. After all, friends will not be likely to toss out cards that happen to have nativity scenes on them.  Neighbors visiting our home won't be offended by the words of "The First Noel." It's all just part of the season, part of the holidays, part of the fun.

The Church will begin Christmas music and celebrations on the 25th, but out here in the world, the window is now wide open.

This is when scenes and songs normally found only in Church can spill out into the world.

And who knows?  Someone years from now might look back on a card I sent her this season, or remember the nativity scene she saw in my home, and recall this very year as her own special Advent. 

For now, for just these few short weeks, the window is open.

We have no idea who might be looking through it.

I pray that they may catch a glimpse of Christ.


top: Franz Skarbina Unter dem Weihnachtsbaum (digitally altered)
bottom: Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Young Peasant Woman with Three Children at the Window