Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened While Waiting for Christmas

The First Sunday of Advent

The Word:
Isaiah 2:1-5 (O house of Jacob, come - let us walk in the light of the Lord!)
Psalm 122 (Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord)
Romans 13:11-14 ("It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep")
Matthew 24:37-44 ("Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come")

It should be no surprise to anyone that human beings are the most impatient of all creatures God put on this earth. Further, it should not surprise anyone that American humans - and I'm not speaking of the original natives -  are more impatient than other humans. Let's face it: Americans invented fast food, and online banking and shopping. Now you can handle all your financial and business transactions from your computer at home while in your pajamas, and then get dressed and grab a burrito at Taco Bell.

It's my understanding that in some locales one can attend a drive-thru wake. Here you don't get out of your car; you pass by the deceased's casket displayed in a bay window to pay your respects, and then head off to your next activity, be it the gym or the pub or your kid's basketball game.

Advent is a big part of what I call the "Season of Light," which starts with the fourth Thursday in November (US Thanksgiving Day) and ends with the Twelfth Day of Christmas, January 6 - the traditional date reserved for the solemn feast of the Epiphany.

Now here's a story in itself. Even Holy Mother Church has not been totally immune from the madness of impatience. Nearly fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council stood Catholicism on its ear by making a number of rather profound changes, most if not all of them important and necessary. But in the process of doing so, she may have inadvertently thrown out the Holy Babe with the Holy Bath Water.

Case in point: Epiphany moved was moved in the US from January 6 to the first Sunday following January 1. Why? At one time it was considered a day of obligation - and still is to most of the rest of the world's Catholics. But not here. We're just too busy. Our jobs are too demanding; our bosses won't let us take time off to attend Mass. Oh, and not to cast aspersions on my non-Catholic but still devout Christian friends, they don't observe any of the Catholic obligatory feasts; simply because that's one thing that their hierarchies decided dogmatically that they don't have to do.

Second case in point: The religious education program (which Catholics over age 50 will probably know as the Baltimore Catechism No.1) vanished into some sort of vacuum, leaving a huge void in its wake. Now the reasons at the time for abandoning the BC1 seemed sound; people just seemed too savvy and inquisitive to be handed the pat answers contained therein. Q: Where is God? A: God is everywhere. Kid in class: If God is everywhere, why doesn't he see all the bad stuff going on and do something about it? (And that's a nicer question than most kids might ask.)

The Christian Church is very, very rich in tradition. Unfortunately, much of that tradition has been swept aside in favor of minimalism; minimalism caused by impatience - ultimately, a failure to wait upon God in faith. My wife is a treasure trove of understanding this accumulated tradition, or at least knowing where to look it up. She knows more about the depth of Christian tradition than I - and she does not subscribe to the practices of Christian worship. She will keep my sense of duty in relative loving balance by reminding me that in another time, this first Sunday in Advent went by other names. It's been called "Stir-It-Up" Sunday in the British Isles, as on this day the batters for such holiday treats as plum pudding were prepared (and then allowed to ferment before the final preparation and baking).

It turns out that each of the four Sundays of Advent had a Latin name, each derived from the text of the Introit prayer of the Mass for that day. Here's the rundown, along with my wife's humorous commentary, lest I become too holy:

  • 1st Sunday of Advent: Ad te levabi animam meam (Psalm 25:1 - To you I lift my soul), which she calls 'Ad Te Levi' and states that today you relax in your jeans after surviving the Target 2-Day Sale and read the ads from the Sunday paper
  • 2nd Sunday of Advent: Populos Sion (Isaiah 30:19 - People of Zion, the Lord will come), which is locally translated as 'people make me sick' and seems rather appropriate given some shopping behavior at about this point in the season
  • 3rd Sunday of Advent: Gaudete (Philippians 4:4 - Rejoice in the Lord always); this is the only one that's easily remembered because the priests still wear gaudy or God awful pink vestments - priests will quickly reply that the color is rose, not pink
  • 4th Sunday of Advent: Rorate coeli (Isaiah 45:8 - Let the heavens rain down the Just One), loosely translated as 'someone hand me some Rolaids, and deliver me from this madness'
A vast library of music existed for these ancient Latin texts, and their use was more or less mandatory until the Second Vatican Council; after that, although the English translations of these verses still appear, they've been generally discarded for a (hopefully) well known hymn; again, in the name of simplicity or convenience; whatever, so long as we don't have to spend extra time preparing or even think about preparing.

A large subset of my so-called "Season of Light" contains the "Season of Wait." Waiting for Christmas. Waiting for it all to pass so life can resume to relative normal productivity. But most importantly, waiting for the prophesied and promised Second Coming of Christ - an event of which God has not given a timeframe to anyone; not to any of the Church Fathers; not even to Jesus as he walked upon the earth in 1st Century Palestine. However, when it is recalled and observed, the vast accumulation of tradition associated with this time of year does a great deal to take the burden out of the wait - and can even make the waiting fun, as you want to linger in some of them for awhile. Over the course of the last few years I've written a few things down about many of them; I'm going back to read them, and I'll try my best to point to them so others can read them for perhaps the first time. Why? Because in these days when daylight can seem not to exist, and while our bodies may start complaining of the need to sleep, there's too much to do to even consider it, we need to take up the slack, as it were, and 'be' light and comfort to others. That's the significance of the candles, the inviting light displays, the exchanging of gifts, the caroling, the foodapalooza gatherings laden with treats you should only eat once a year.

Please consider at least one of the above this year. Immerse yourself in it. God has never made it easier to enjoy the wait.

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