Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Everyday Grace: Make an Advent leap of faith
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Dec. 4, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
The day after Halloween my daughter started counting the days until Christmas. I was still digging carrots from my garden and waiting for the leaves to fall from our sycamore tree. I wasn’t ready to start thinking about Christmas. Mostly I wasn’t ready to tackle all the work that comes with Christmas.
What would it be like, I wondered, if there were no presents to buy, no cards to write, no cookies to bake, no decorating to do? I enjoy each of these activities, but doing them all in the first three weeks of December can be overwhelming. What if all I had to do to get ready for Christmas was to take some extra quiet time each day to prepare my heart for the coming of Jesus? What if Advent was quiet and prayerful rather than busy and stressful? I tried to imagine a Christmas with me feeling rested and spiritually rejuvenated and having a deeper understanding of what it means that Christ was born a human baby and is ever-coming to life in our world.
Wait — before you start yelling “Bah! Humbug!” at me, I’m not telling you to throw out the Christmas tree.But I do think we’ve been sold a bill of goods when it comes to the modern American Christmas. It’s not only the blatant commercialism that has taken over the true spirit of the holiday; many of us are also caught up in producing a picture-perfect, heart-warming family time.
As we move toward the shortest days of the year, is it any wonder our deepest human hungers rise to the surface? Could it be our rush to the bustle of holiday preparations stems in part from some primeval fear of the dark and dead of winter. In our longing for peace do we settle for a frenetic pace?
Like many of you, my husband and I have struggled to keep Christ at the center of Christmas. Years ago when our oldest was four we decided our family would no longer believe in Santa Claus. I felt like an ogre, or at least a killjoy. How could I rob my children of the innocent fun of all that myth entails? What could compare to the wide-eyed wonder of a child running to the tree on Christmas morning to see if Santa had come?
I decided I had to take a leap of faith. I had to believe that the real Christmas story could measure up to the “Night Before Christmas.” I had to trust the story of a God who loved his creatures so much he gave up all his power and glory to become like them. Could I have faith that the deepest hungers of our hearts would be filled without Jolly Old St. Nicholas just opening his pack?
Looking back, perhaps we hedged our bets. We still have presents on Christmas. But we try to emphasize that we give each other gifts as a way of showing our love for one another and as a symbol of God’s gifts to us. We’ve scaled back, trying to reduce our kids’ expectations. And we’ve planned fun family times throughout the season so the excitement doesn’t peak on Christmas morning.
I surely don’t want to take the celebration out of Christmas. It’s certainly a time for feasting and joy. Decorating, baking, partying with friends and family are all appropriate ways of celebrating Jesus’ birth.
The problem arises when the preparations for the celebration take over to such an extent that we have little time and energy to devote to our deepest and truest hungers. It’s a question of balance; perhaps both Santa and Christ will get a share of your time this coming season. As Advent begins we can ask ourselves which way the scale is tipping. Will we aim for equal weight? How far are we willing to leap in faith?
I’m hoping to let some of the “work” of Christmas slide and just sit awhile, waiting for God.
(Mary Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the new book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)