Preparing for Advent at home
"...what we do at home prepares for and amplifies what we do in church in celebrating the liturgy..."
"...We know that Jesus was born into a poor family and was soon to become a refugee. Advent and Christmas recall that the Gospel draws us out into the world to build a more just society...."
Advent is my favourite time of year. The church is filled with the richness of the colour violet, and we are filled with a sense of anticipation. Jesus is coming! What we do at home prepares for and amplifies what we do in church in celebrating the liturgy. There is a wealth of rituals we can use within parish and family life to reflect a sense of anticipation and in particular, the love, hope, joy and peace that are the key to the season and foundational to our faith.
Many parishes acknowledge Advent with the lighting of candles, marking the steps along the journey to the birth of the Christ child. Christ, Light of the World, is celebrated in the fullness of light in our long summer days. The ritual of the advent wreath is easily transplanted to the home situation, where the candles can be lit each day with the evening meal and a prayer of thanks and expectation offered.
The crib, a devotional tradition in many parishes, may be brought to life in new ways in the home. It can be gradually ‘built’ over the weeks of Advent, using spaces in different rooms for shepherds to be in their fields, animals in their stable, Mary and Jesus on their journey. How wonderful to place the child Jesus in the crib on Christmas eve, to see the wise men approaching from a distance, arriving to see Christ at Epiphany. Thus we remember together that in the Christian tradition Christmas does not end on 25 December: it is a much greater story which flies in the face of commercial consumerism.
We can make connections between what we do at home and what we do at Sunday Mass. When St Francis created the first nativity scene in the little village of Greccio in 1223, he was overwhelmed by the connection he saw between the child Jesus and the Eucharist. A child accepts us as we are and this is how God accepts and loves us. In the Eucharist and in the Nativity, we grow up, because God places himself in our care (Bodo, 1988, p. 69).
We know that Jesus was born into a poor family and was soon to become a refugee. Advent and Christmas recall that the Gospel draws us out into the world to build a more just society. Many parishes build or collect Christmas hampers for people experiencing disadvantage. Participating in the collection of items may generate an important family discussion and represent a part of our stewardship of all that God gives us. It is worth making these contributions a significant family gift. Our giving at this time of year is done with joy, as a means of bringing hope, even when it comes with sacrifice. We give of our resources to help others with less than ourselves.
We often overlook the feast of St Nicholas during Advent. Many cultures around the world celebrate this feast on 6 December each year. Celebrating the life of this saint offers us an opportunity to explore the beginnings of gift giving and to understand the origins of Santa Clause. Rituals celebrated in various parts of the world easily transfer to our Australian culture. There are many resources available for home, school and parish use, a good example being www.stnicholascentre.org Nicholas gave in secret, alert to others' needs, and expecting nothing for himself in return. What a significant tradition to uphold!
Some people build a Jesse tree during December. Instead of the commercial advent calendars, which often have very little to do with Christmas, a Jesse tree follows the path from Creation to the Birth of Jesus by remembering many of the significant biblical events and people.
There are many different ways to celebrate. What we do in the domestic church of the home can make our liturgical symbols come to life when we go to Mass with the family of the parish. Our symbols should open us up to the greatest gift the world has known - a loving God in our very midst, a transcendent God in a humble world.
Grace Harwood is pastoral associate in the parish of the Cathedral Parish. This article first appeared in Liturgy News.