The countdown to Christmas is upon us. How many shopping days do we have left? Have we thought of everything? Is our “To Do” list getting longer as we tackle plans to make our holiday celebrations perfect? Or, have we vowed not to give into the frenetic pace of the short, 28-day period between Thanksgiving and Christmas?
I was feeling some of the pressure of the season recently. Then, on day 6 of the 28-day countdown – the third day of Advent – as the sun was rising on my drive to Archmere, and I heard playing on the radio, “i thank You God for this most amazing day, ” a choral work by Eric Whitacre inspired by the poem by E.E. Cummings. I was inspired by the words at that moment:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
What a wonderful morning prayer, especially during this season of Advent!
The day before, students, faculty, and staff assembled on the quad to bless a large Advent wreath, lighting the first candle. As I explained to those assembled, the rich symbolism of the Advent wreath contrasts with the commercialism of our contemporary culture and uses the signs in nature to reveal a powerful message.
The Advent wreath is made of evergreens, which retain their color through the winter, when all other trees are bare. The circle of the wreath and the greens represent God’s eternal presence, having no beginning and no ending. Each week, one of the three purple and one rose candles are lit, so that as the days of the year grow shorter, approaching the winter solstice on December 21, the light from the wreath grows brighter. Christ – the light of the world – is coming to dispel the darkness of sin and death forever. The single rose candle, lit on the Third Sunday of Advent – often called Gaudate Sunday – celebrates that halfway point of the Advent Season. “Gaudate,” means “rejoice” in Latin.
While most places have been decorated for Christmas for some time, and a number of radio stations are already playing continuous Christmas music, the Catholic Church celebrates the Advent season as a time for us to prepare our inner selves for Christ’s coming – not only as a commemoration of His historical birth, but as He comes to us now in Word and Sacrament, and as He will come again. Our Advent preparation then, is not only about getting the house decorated, gifts purchased, and cards and letters written. Though all of that is a joyful – albeit potentially stressful – part of our lives during Advent, it is also a time to pause and take stock of ourselves. It is a time to think about what things in our lives we have done well and what things we might consider doing better, to live the deeper, fuller, life that God has called us to live. In the Catholic Church, the First Sunday of Advent begins a new liturgical year, much like New Year’s Day celebrates a new calendar year. And just as people make New Year’s resolutions, we might consider making Advent resolutions.
One personal resolution that has come to mind was inspired by a reflection given at an Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service at our parish by a neighboring congregation’s Presbyterian minister. He asked the question, “If you woke up today only with the things you gave thanks for yesterday, what would you have?” What a great question! In response, I hope to recall each morning the opening words of E.E. Cummings poem, “i thank You God for most this amazing day,” learning to be grateful for the successes and the challenges each day brings. My Advent and Christmas prayer to all is that together we share our grateful hearts with one another to build up a community of faith that is worthy to receive Jesus Christ not only at Christmas, but every day of the year.