Don’t just do something, stand there

Friday 30 November 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — St. Andrew Day

Hang on to your hats, dear readers. Here we go again. It’s the most maniacal time of the year — “The Holidays.” Have you noticed that something always seems out of kilter? Something doesn’t feel quite right. Why do so many people dread the approach of “The Holidays”? Why do so many want them to end as quickly as possible? Why are so many relieved when the “The Holidays” are finally over?

Here’s why. We have severed our rootedness to the earth. We have lost the rhythm of the natural year. We have gone out of tune. Everyone is out of step. 

In the natural world, this is the time of quiet and stillness, not of anxious activity. Even the chipmunks are hibernating. Even the birds have fallen silent. 

Here on Cape Cod, we don’t have the autumnal foliage displays of other areas of New England. We don’t have a “leaf peeping season” at all. Nobody has ever crossed over to this side of the bridge to admire the foliage. The leaves in these parts just turn brown and fall off. Be that as it may, by now the trees are skeletal. Only a handful of stubborn leaves cling to the branches of the twisted scrub oaks. Autumn is over. Winter is upon us. 

father_tim_fireplace

The skies are drab and overcast. The days of fun in the sun are but a memory. There always seems to be rain in the seven-day weather forecast. And then silently comes the snow. There is nothing more serene than the first soft snowfall of the season. Time to light the fireplace and curl up with a good book. 

No, in the natural word, this is not a time for hectic hoopla. It never has been. Over millennia, the stillness of November and December have become embedded in our human DNA. 

Our Spirituality is in synch with nature. Faith builds on nature. Our Spirituality is entwined with our humanity and our humanity with the natural world we inhabit. In nature, this is the season for quiet and calm. In the Church, we call it the Season of Advent. During Advent, we wait patiently in the encroaching darkness. It feels like the right thing to do because it is. We ignore Advent at our own Spiritual peril.

Here in New England, we are fortunate to have four seasons. I could never live in the Land of Perpetual Summer because there I could never enfold the darkness. One sees the light more clearly from the darkness. The darkest hour is just before dawn. 

I get a kick out of how some Christian communities use draconian tactics to circumvent Advent, rushing into Christmas while attempting to appear Liturgically correct.

I saw a poster for a church concert entitled “On earth, peace.” Sounds to me like a Christmas carol-sing in early Advent. Advent is not Christmas. Then there’s a new program for Advent called “‘Tis almost the season.” Nice try. What about the traditional parish Christmas fairs? Rename them? What? “Parish Advent Fair”? “Pre-Holiday Fair”? “Getting in the Christmas Spirit Fair”? “Winter Solstice Fair”? “Early Christmas Shopping Fair”? No. No. It’s still a Christmas fair no matter what you call it — and it’s Advent.

When you put up the church Christmas crib way too early, you’re fooling no one by hiding the Baby Jesus in the closet. It’s a Christmas manger scene. The Guest of Honor should be included. 

Then there’s the habit of festooning the Sanctuary with poinsettias sometime in early Advent. It may take some pressure off the final days of preparation, but it just seems out of place. 

What about the inappropriateness of singing Christmas carols at church immediately following Thanksgiving Day — just because people know the words? 

Advent is Advent. Christmas is Christmas. The way I see it, the Liturgy doesn’t even begin to turn to thoughts of the Incarnation of the Lord until late in Advent. In the meantime, we would do well to follow the advice of Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.” 

Before we rush headlong into something, we need to take time to review the situation, to get our bearings, to set the course. Imagine how dangerous it would be if you were wheeled into an emergency room only to have the physician begin immediate treatment without first appraising your symptoms. You could end up with an appendectomy when you were in fact suffering a heart attack. 

The days of Advent afford the Church the quiet opportunity to contemplate the comings of Jesus in our lives. The Lord comes to us constantly and in varied ways. The primary comings of the Lord are His coming in glory at the end of time and His first coming into human history, born in Bethlehem. Every year, we take the time to silently ponder these mysteries before we begin to celebrate them. Without Advent, “The Holidays” are nothing but hyper activity. 

This Advent, don’t just do something, stand there. 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.


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