Sunday, December 02, 2012

A time of waiting


A few days ago I read a cracking post from my friend Broad, in which she reminded us all that “Advent is not Christmas”. It was a clarion call to put all the rush and bustle of the pre-Christmas season into perspective and remember what it is that we are preparing for.

I have always loved the season of Advent, especially because, long before its religious significance truly came alive for me, our first child, our son, was born on Advent Sunday. DH and I had recently graduated and were poor as church mice, but felt very rich indeed as that Christmas approached.

Years later, at some point every Advent DD and I would drive home from church singing our favourite Advent hymn, the ancient and beautiful O Come, O Come, Emmanuel with its hauntingly solemn melody. The version I've chosen reminds me of my long-ago student days, when I too sang in my college chapel choir, though without the dignified robes.

Nowadays, Advent for me is a time of expectant waiting for the joy of Christmas to come. Neither my house nor our church is decorated as yet and won’t be until shortly before Christmas.  Traditionally Advent is solemn, even austere, rather than celebratory, so that the celebrations, when they arrive, are heightened by the quiet waiting which has preceded them. Counter-cultural, perhaps, in the 21st century, and not easy to achieve in the pre-Christmas frenzy that surrounds us all, but it works for me every time. However you mark it, I hope that Advent will be peaceful and contented for you too.


Image via Google

44 comments:

  1. I love the quiet time of Advent. Years ago I was a liturgical musician, and those songs remain within me.

    We have simplified Christmas now that the kids are grown and gone. We send cards to those we don't see from one year to the next (or who aren't on Facebook!), put up a few decorations including a stocking for every child, spouse of child, or grandchild (and one for our deceased potbellied pig, Bud, who remains active in our hearts). We order one gift for each of our grandchildren. We decorate a small tree outdoors on our walkway. We have a family dinner a week before Christmas. And then we are quiet. That works for us.

    "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." Though no longer a practicing religious person, I am spiritually refreshed at this time of year - in the dark days, when people all over the world wait for the light.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for giving me a glimpse of your Advent preparations, Linda. I can well imagine that those powerful Advent hymns are now part of you after playing them so often in the past. Your quiet, simple Christmas sounds lovely and I like the way you have adapted your traditions to suit your changed circumstances.

      DH and I now longer celebrate Christmas and New Year at home Instead we visit our children and their families, it being easier for two grandparents to travel than two families with children. :-) So the quiet time of Advent is a perfect preparation for the joyful family get-togethers over the festive season.

      Delete
  2. Amen. The Advent season is a special time for me as well. All the hoopla of Christmas sometimes overshadows the true meaning of the Season of Christ's birth. I too, love the hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Today, I chose Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You too, Bonnie.:-) That hymn is another of my favourites, and we'll be singing it when I take a service on the third Sunday in Advent. One of the really lovely consequences of coming back to the church all those years ago now was discovering Advent as a separate season and I still love it.

      Delete
  3. Perpetua thank you for this lovely post and Happy Birthday to your DD today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're very welcome, Molly. It's actually DS who was the Advent Sunday baby, but my post wasn't clear so I've now corrected it. He tells me he's had a good birthday.:-)

      Delete
  4. We've just had our (newly) traditional Service of Light in Llanmerewig Church - intended to be a united service for our 4 churches, but attendance isn't brilliant! But it's a lovely reflective service, started in darkness and then everyone has a candle which is lighted during the first hymn, and the whole service is conducted by candlelight with the occasional torch for the readers!) Very atmospheric, and lovely hymns, finishing with 'Lo, He comes with clouds descending' (reminding us that Christ will come again.) Sends shivers down the spine, doesn't it - in a nice way - a truly special time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds wonderful, Helva. We used to have a similar service in my last parishes and it was always much appreciated. There's something about the symbolism of light out of darkness which is very profound and meaningful. We need all the time we can manage to snatch for reflection in the middle of the rush of Christmas preparations.

      PS This morning at church we sang 'Lo, he comes'.

      Delete
  5. I just love that hymn. I spent 13 years in an Anglican Convent School. I no longer attend church services although I am planning on resuming now my circumstances have changed.

    A quiet Christmas planned here although I still do the decorations - tree went up yesterday but may not get decorated for a while.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I imagine you sang 'O come, O come' rather often during 13 years in convent school, Susan, but I think one never tires of it. I do hope you enjoy your return to church-going.

      Christmas is bound to be quiet for you nowadays, but I wish you a very pleasant one, complete with a decorated tree.

      Delete
  6. Like you Perpetua, I too love the Advent Season & regret that it so easily gets overwhelmed by Christmas being celebrated early. I wrote all about this a year ago, http://rickyyates.com/advent-sunday/ , a post I know that you enjoyed.

    Our Advent Sunday worship today was wonderfully enhanced by a visiting Australian Girls Choir who, together with family members and supporters, effectively doubled our regular congregational numbers to over one hundred. Together, we nearly caused serious damage to the Church roof with 'Lo he comes with clouds descending' as our post-Communion hymn! I am also a great fan of 'O come, O come Emmanuel' which will certainly also feature as part of our Advent hymnody.

    Wishing you a blessed Advent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Ricky, and wishing the same to you. Yes, I know you too love Advent, but it's a constant struggle to stop it being swamped by all things Christmassy.

      Your service today sounds wonderful. I can just imagine the rafters resounding to the sound of such vigorous singing. I do hope the concert listed on the church's website was really well attended. Australia to Prague is a LONG way to come.....

      Delete
    2. The concert was quite well attended. After the morning service & lunch, the girls all went out around Old Town Square & surroundings with leaflets inviting people to the concert as well as singing on the streets. They certainly attracted some attention! And they didn't just come to Prague, they were also in Rome the previous Sunday & sang at a papal mass!

      Delete
    3. I'm pleased it went well, Ricky. Thanks for letting me know. I would love to have heard the girls singing in the Old Town. :-) They are certainly going to go home with some fantastic memories.

      Delete
  7. Your words and the music are a balm for my soul this first Sunday of Advent, Perpetua. We started our day with Lessons in Carols and the lighting of the first candle. I love the Advent season. Here, the days slowly unfold, though much of the world around us is already blinking with Christmas lights and lit trees. We go a bit more slowly here on the Cutoff and we leave our tree and decorations up until, as our girls used to say, "the wise guys" come. A wondrous post of anticipation. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Penny. Of course in your Greek Orthodox heritage Advent is traditionally a very solemn season - a little Lent - which is how I try to keep it. No more wine or chocolate for me until Christmas arrives. :-) I think the heightened sense of anticipation which comes from letting things unfold slowly is so worthwhile, rather than being tired of all things Christmassy before the day itself even arrives.

      Delete
  8. Sorry, but I had to google Advent since I wasn't sure what it meant. I've always associated Advent with something Catholics do but I guess other Christian churches celebrate it also. It sounds like a tradition that many people love. So, may you have a blessed Advent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No need to apologise, Rubye. I was brought up in the Congregational church and knew virtually nothing about Advent as a child. But when I became an Anglican (Episcopalian) it was wonderful to discover Advent as a season of preparation for Christmas and it is one of my favourite times of the church's year. In fact the church year begins on Advent Sunday, so Happy New Year. :-)

      Delete
  9. This is a lovely advent post, Perpetua. It is natural as rain to find ourselves caught up in frantic activity this time of year, unless we make a determined effort to be mindful and keep a quiet heart and mind throughout the season. I truly want to have that "all is calm" spirit from here forward! Our daughter was born on Christmas Eve. For several years when she was very young she thought Christmas was really all about her. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Debra. Yes, the outside world doesn't make it easy to be quiet and mindful at the moment unless we really try. Our TV schedules have been full of Christmas films since the middle of November and as for the adverts and shops......! It's easier now I'm retired, but when I was still working the pre-Christmas period was almost unbearably hectic.

      I love the thought of your Christmas Eve daughter thinking that the preparations and celebrations were all about her. Did she get her share of birthday as well as Christmas gifts? I do hope so. :-)

      Delete
  10. This post is a little bit of sanity in the hype that is the norm at this time of year. Your friend is so right - Advent is not Christmas. I see it as a particular gift, this time of preparation leading up to the celebration of the 24th and 25th. I find it so sad that it all seems to be about the decorating, all of which will be torn down on the 26th. When our children were at home we didn't put the tree up until the 24th, before going to church, but it was up for the full twelve days - and there was lots of celebrating around it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Pondside and snap! Your tradition of Christmas decorations is exactly what we used to do too. Decorating the house and the tree on Christmas Eve kept the children busy and happy and of course we kept the decorations up until Epiphany. I'm glad to say that our children are keeping the tradition going with their youngsters. :-)

      Delete
  11. Thank you P, A lovely hymn that I have playing loudly in our Muslim surroundings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome,BtoB. I wonder what your neighbours made of it. Do Muslims sing as part of worship?

      Delete
    2. No- but we are really friendly with the imam in our village and I have played him a selection of Gregorian chants and Vaughan Williams organ pieces and he smiles politely.

      Delete
    3. A sharing of cultures then, BtoB. I like that.

      Delete
  12. A German Advent is the most festive time of year, solemn, yes, but never austere. It’s the when we prepare for Christmas by reading and telling stories, contemplating, singing and listening to music, cosy afternoon teas by the fire with candles lighting the early gloom.
    It’s the most magical time of year there is for us, culminating in Holy Night. Christmas starts with Christmas Day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Friko, thanks so much for this glimpse of a German Advent. It sounds truly magical and the perfect way to approach Christmas. My German penfriend told me of the importance of Holy Night, with the tree being set up then, and of course we owe the tradition of Advent calendars to Germany.

      I think austerity was more a feature of Advent in the past - the 'little Lent' - though I do try not to plunge headfirst into all the Christmas goodies just yet.

      Delete
  13. What a beautiful song.

    Pearl

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you like it, Pearl. It is so old and traditional and Advent just wouldn't be the same without it.

      Delete
  14. A lovely hymn, Perpetua, one that I remember well from childhood. Andalucia is a long way from the 'bring it on' attitude towards Christmas that seems to dominate in the UK - though interestingly, all the English teachers seem to 'do' Christmas lessons from November onwards. I'm avoiding it until the last week and appreciate this post very much for putting everything in perspective.
    Axxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Annie. I too grew up with this hymn and much as I love carols, I do try to leave them til as close as possible to Christmas. :-) Sadly it's difficult to go into any but the smallest ships in the UK without being besieged by carols for weeks and weeks beforehand. I would enjoy a culture which let Christmas keep its proper place.

      Delete
  15. Dear Perpetua, I, too, felt that Broad's posting was a "clarion call" to live within this liturgical season of Advent. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is my favorite Advent hymn and I sang it yesterday as I drove home from a doctor's appointment, there is a poignancy to the hope it expresses. A hope that we all have that within us will spring forth a new birth of spirit during this season. A birth that will bring light into our most hidden chambers.

    The great "O" Antiphons that begin on December 17 have always been a favorite part of Advent for me and I chant them still--all these long years after leaving the convent. Doing that and watching the DVD of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" and listening to the tape I have of Menotti's folk opera are two cherished traditions for me. Peace.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dee, I was sure you would love "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", echoing as it does the great "O" Antiphons. After years of use they must have sunk into your very depths. I'm smiling at the thought of you doing the same as DD and I and singing your heart out in the car. :-)

      I love the way we all build up our own store of traditions around the Christmas season. For another friend of mine, Christmas can't begin until he and his family have come together on Christmas Eve to watch Jimmy Stewart in "It's A Wonderful Life". I wish you a very blessed Advent, dear Dee.


      Delete
    2. Dear Perpetua, two more traditions of this solitary dweller here in the States are these: listening to the unabridged rendering of Rosamund Pilcher's "Winter Solstice" on tape each evening until Christmas for about forty-five minutes and then listening to Fannie Flagg's "A Redbird Christmas" for the final days of December. I treasure book books and have both of them on tape just for the month of December. Peace.

      Delete
    3. Those sound such lovely traditions, Dee. When I had to do a lot of driving for work, i used to listen to a lot of audio books, but have got out of the habit of it since I retired. I really loved Rosamond Pilcher's The Shell Seekers, but don't know this title, so it's now on my library list.

      Delete
  16. Ahhh. I have been working myself into a tizzy over presents and party food and all the frenzy of family Christmas, while knowing all along, in my heart of hearts, that what I really needed was to listen to (or better still, sing) this hymn. It has the tingle factor, hasn't it? The top notes in the descant on the last verse always make my eyes prickle with tears. This great solemn carol symbolises the start of Advent for me, and I hadn't yet managed to hear it anywhere. Thank you so much for providing a moment of holiness, a moment to centre oneself on the real significance of the season.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes, DB, very much one of my tingle factor pieces, along with Allegri's Miserere and the slow movement of Mozart's Clarinet concerto among others. I'm with you too in this particular hymn being the essential introduction to Advent and I'm glad to have filled the gap for you this year. I so well remember the sheer pressure of the pre-Christmas period for a mother of young children, knowing that there was more to the season than rushing around, but finding it difficult to pause and draw breath.

      Wishing you a blessed Advent amid all the preparations.

      Delete
  17. I too loved advent, and the anticipation of Christmas, and especially O come O come/Veni, Veni. The quiet thoughtful period before hand was lovely. Having said that, my Christmases have never been commercial anyway. Enjoy it while it lasts :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am doing, thanks, rough seas. We've always tried to keep Christmas quiet and personal and never bought vast numbers of presents for the children. But the little traditions surrounding Advent and Christmas have always been a must, from candles and calendars to carols round the tree.

      Delete
  18. Oh, how I hear you. As the years pass and the fashion becomes to decorate for Christmas ever earlier I find myself wanting to do less and less preparation ... if only the rest of the world were in step with that!

    I seem to start craving greenery and candles and perhaps flowers but nothing more!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guessed from your own posts that you would feel the same, Annie. I think too, that as I get older I crave more simplicity and quietness all the time, but particularly in Advent. At the moment all I'm doing is displaying the cards we receive as they arrive and then I'll see how much more I want to do when the day draws near. We'll be spending the festive season with both our children in turn, so here will be plenty of decorations there to enjoy.

      Delete
  19. Having been hurled into the midst of pre Christmas commercialism while searching for kippers in Southampton I am glad of the respite offered by travelling to be able to concentrate on the Advent period.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Way-hey, Fly! Lovely to hear from you and to know you're surviving the rigours of the pre-Christmas rush in the UK. :-) I hope the rest of your stay goes well and the assorted provender makes it safely back to Costa Rica. Advent peace to you.

      Delete

I welcome your comments and will always try to respond to them. Thank you for reading.