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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advent Is not Christmas!



This year as a prelude to the madness of the pre-Christmas period I took the opportunity to attend a 'Quiet Day' that was organized by our vicar. The venue was the very beautiful and exquisitely peaceful, Ince Blundel Hall, a Roman Catholic Convent and Nursing Home.

In his opening remarks, the vicar proclaimed, "Advent is not Christmas". In fact, he repeated this phrase several times throughout the three lectures of the day. Advent is supposed to be a time of preparation, of contemplation, of expectation,  and of desire. It is easy to find this special time 'eclipsed' when so many 'Christmas' celebrations seem to be held before the fesival day actually arrives -- all the singing of Christmas Carols and Christmas dinners and parties, for example. By the time Christmas Day arrives and the festivities begin -- many of us are physically exhausted. Spiritually, many of us are not ready at all. And when this happens, Advent has been 'eclipsed' -- sometimes even before it has begun!

This Quiet Day was a good way to reflect on  this Time of Preparation. The rooms we were able to use were elegant and relaxing. I felt surrounded by prayer and holiness. The sisters were a calm and peaceful presence. The world outside may tend to scoff at the monastic life as inconsequential, but a few hours spent here and I felt I was in an atmosphere that gives to this world a presence, a force of good that continually and diligently benefits humanity.


I love it when I hear something in a lecture I've never before considered: The Advent/Christmas period is particularly suited to the North of England because the steely climate is of death and rebirth. I was reminded of these two carols, much favoured in this part of the world: 
Hills of the north, rejoice; 
river and mountain spring, 
hark to the advent voice; 
valley and lowland, sing; 
though absent long, your Lord is nigh; 
he judgment brings and victory. 
Or Christina Rossetti's
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Advent is a time of more darkness than light, but the darkness gives way to the light and the 'Kyrie' comes to the 'Gloria'.  In his concluding remarks, the vicar said that "Advent is the eruption of eternity into time." and  "The Advent season is about the pursuit of wisdom." This reminded me of the Antiphons which are a very beautiful part of the Advent tradition and are said from the 17th to the 23rd of December:
O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High and, reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly.  Come, and teach us the way of prudence.
Which emphasises another point he made several times: Advent is not just a calendar event, it is a 'state of mind'!

38 comments:

  1. Dear Broad
    Thank you for this post - it says what I've been thinking about a lot recently, as I'm preparing an Advent course for our village (an ecumenical venture with the Baptist Chapel, and taking place in the Chapel as it's much more user-friendly and warm than the Church!) And what a lovely venue you had for your retreat. There's something about the regular routine of prayer, work and recreation in a monastic institution that is very calming and healing, in my experience. Have a blessed and stress-free Advent and Christmas yourself.

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    1. Thank you Helva! I hope you have the greatest success with your course. I feel very blessed to have been able to go to such a place... And a very blessed and stress-free Advent and Christmas to you.

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  2. Oh!

    Oh. Oh. Oh. This is beautiful.

    I did not grow up with Advent in our Baptist churches. I feel the lack of it now, reading your post. Your vicar has brought me, through you, powerful insights. Advent is the eruption of eternity into time.

    I offer profound thanks for this post. I have struggled with what Christmas (not Advent) means to me, now that I have left the church and religion. But this vision of eternity erupting into time through Advent, the preparation of the spirit for the coming of the divine, offers me a new way of seeing the holiday. Yes Advent is not Christmas. And sometimes Christmas is not Christmas, when it is co-opted by commerce. This provides me much to ponder in meditation.

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    1. Oh Ruth, I thank you so very much for your encouraging words. Funnily enough, when the vicar said 'Advent is the eruption of eternity into time', I thought of you!

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  3. Well you know what I think about Christmas. I do love it, but you have to remember that it has only been about the birth of Jesus for a few hundred years, and early Christians super-imposed their celebration onto an earlier feast, which was probably just as holy. I don't resent them for this, but the 12 days leading up to and through it were always celebrated in the bleak mid-winter, and the festivities were always designed to think of the poor and unfortunate, in the true spirit of social compassion and hospitality in a dangerously cold climate. The 'Christian Spirit' was alive and well, quite a long time before 2012 years ago.

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    1. Excellent stuff, Tom! It makes the celebration seem more valid and eternal -- as if part of humanity from the beginning of time.

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  4. A marvellous post, Broad and I echo your sentiments completely. Being at home with TV in November (we're usually in the north without this month) I'm horrified by the endless adverts and soppy Christmas films a month before the festival itself. Sigh...

    Your vicar spike some very wise words and I'm glad you found your Quiet Day so fulfilling and helpful. I love staying with religious communities for all the reasons you give. They are an immense, if unseen, force for good. Here's to a very blessed Advent for us all.

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    1. I have a blow-up replica of 'the Scream' which I usually put up around this time of year. I don't feel the need to -- yet! Christmas paraphernalia started appearing here before Halloween, in mid-October. In the States Christmas is often mitigated by Thanksgiving at the end of November -- but it seems to be slowly creeping into the advertising earlier and earlier -- that now there is a campaign called 'Thanksgiving comes before Christmas'! So does Advent! I say 'Wait for the Antiphons!'

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  5. I wholeheartedly agree. I am already fed up with Christmas, but not with "Christmas" but all the ramifications, which I dread.
    Believe it or not, I am going out tonight with my work colleagues for our "Christmas do" - the restaurant hasn't even got their festive menu going yet !! I just don't understand the point of it all. I'd rather share some home-made mince pies one lunchtime but this evening is the only one everyon else could manage to be free.......aaarghhhhhh.....

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    1. I feel your "aaarghhhhh", I really do!

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  6. Love this! A grand reminder. Many thanks Broad

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    1. Thank you so much, Donna. Your comment is greatly appreciated! :-)

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  7. This must have been a welcome retreat from the crassness and commercialization of this over-hyped Christmas season.

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    1. Very welcome indeed! A total escape!

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  8. What a lovely way to start the season. All I know about Advent are the calendars where you open a box every day and get a chocolate.

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    1. The calendars are great fun for children in the countdown the big day. But it was nice to be reminded that this time is really about 'a state of mind' rather than the calendar!

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  9. Dear Broad, I truly loved this posting. It took me back to my days in the convent. Advent was a favorite liturgical season for me. And the great "O" antiphons called me daily to chant and remember that out of darkness comes light. The continual cycle of death and rebirth.

    The Rossetti poem is dear to me. If you read mysteries then you might enjoy the series by Julia Spencer-Fleming. The first book in her series of about seven books is from the last line of the poem: "In the Bleak Midwinter."

    The following lines from your posting ring so true for me when I return to the convent to visit with friends: "The world outside may tend to scoff at the monastic life as inconsequential, but a few hours spent here and I felt I was in an atmosphere that gives to this world a presence, a force of good that continually and diligently benefits humanity." Thank you for sharing this lovely day you had. Peace.

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    1. I thought of you that day -- and thought also you would have enjoyed being there.

      I'll definitely be checking out Julia Spencer-Fleming!

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  10. Even though we got married in the month of April we had Hills of the North Rejoice sung during our wedding service as it is such a favorite.

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    1. What a lovely and original choice!

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  11. Quiet Time sounds wonderful, Broad. Taking time for quiet reflection is such a gift to oneself, especially during a time that has become increasingly commercial and chaotic.

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  12. 'Gift to oneself' -- exactly the right words to describe it. I heartily recommend this to everyone!

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  13. I have never even considered this. What a revelation to me! thank you for this post! i have become so caught in the secular meaning of Christmas, I act as if it already here. You have given me new insights into advent! oh just look at that seed you planted!! I recently told my husband I feel the need for a retreat, your post and thoughts have reaffirmed this.

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    1. You've exactly described what happens to people at this time of year, Annmarie. It's become the season of 'making people crazy'! I hope you can manage to find a place of retreat -- the perspective afterwards is like a new lease of life!

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  14. So true. Much of what I rail about, with my "Thanksgiving Comes First" rants, is that we need the time for reflection. The "Christmas Season" (a commercial invention) is noise, noise, noise, and the entire purpose is to keep you from reflecting at all, not on what you already have (as opposed to what you desire) and not on what you can afford (as opposed to how high you can ring up the credit charges.) I'm so glad you have a vicar who gets it.

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    1. You and I are so on the same page about this, Sully! Christmas is supposed to be the season of joy -- but there seems to be less and less 'joy' each year...

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  15. In my house Advent is a time for quiet and contemplation, for candles and cosy evenings, for early music and, of course, afternoon Kaffee und Stollen.

    Christmas in Germany (at least in my childhood) didn’t start until Christmas Day, with Holy Night being the most festive evening of the year. (and not festive in the British sense)

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    1. Friko, the best Christmas's I've had in my life were our 5 years in Bavaria. No Christmas trees were light until Christmas Eve -- and the idea of the Christ Child bringing gifts on Christmas Eve -- beautiful and meaningful traditions and completely different from the UK or the USA. Today my husband and I are going to look for the Advent candle wreath (made of pine cones so it's still in tact!)we brought back -- such a lovely tradition in the lead up to Christmas.

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  16. I came over from Perpetua's blog. Thank you for this lovely post

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  17. Thank you for this reminder. When I was young in Sweden, Advent was a preparation, slowly, both spiritually and with gifts and the calendar, one candle lit for each Sunday in Advent. There was no mad rush. We would go to Christmas market and buy gifts, the tree went up the night before Christmas Eve and that was the night the presents got wrapped, the poems written, while mother was busy in the kitchen. It was such a lovely time of anticipation for us children, something that is totally missing here and now.

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    1. As mentioned above, we spent five years in Bavaria, which has many of the same customs as you describe. Every year at some point I feel very homesick for those years and those traditions.

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  18. Just thought I'd drop by again and let you know about another blog you might enjoy, concerning Advent. My friend, Craig:

    http://theyardnextdoor.blogspot.com/2012/12/advent.html#comment-form

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    1. Thanks, Sully. I'll be checking it out today for sure!

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  19. What a delightful story! A wonderful consideration of Advent, indeed.

    Blessings and Bear hugs in your Advent time of seeing wisdom and wholeness.

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    1. And to you dear Bear -- widom and wholeness -- that's it!

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  20. Thanks so much for this. Advent is not Christmas! I love it!

    As I go on, I appreciate Advent more and more. The simple chance to sit quietly, to contemplate and recollect, is not one that is afforded to us often, and even less during this month leading up to Christmas. It ends up stealing not only Advent from us, but Christmas, as well, if we allow it. . .

    Thanks again. This is truly wonderful. . .

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    1. Oh, Craig, you are so kind -- thank you. Suldog has recommended your blog and in particular the post about advent, which I am very much looking forward to reading.

      A lot of rushing around is never good for the soul -- and Christmas, supposedly the season of good will, gets spoiled all too often as we try to pack more in than is ever good for us. I'll see you over at yours!

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Receiving comments is a joy and I thank you all for taking the trouble and showing your interest. Makes me feel all gooey and stuff!