I love celebrating four weeks of Advent plus a full 40 days of Christmas until Candlemas on February 2 – each as their own lovely season. And while I can be a bit of a purist, I’m not grinchy. I appreciate that the preparations, festive parties, songs and carols of the seasons overlap, all helping us in our journey to visit the first “house of the Lord,” the manger in Bethlehem.
Many traditions we hold dear from childhood, some we have reinvented for new circumstances. What we see, hear, smell, taste and touch help guide us toward the Feast of the Incarnation. These rituals are especially helpful when we might be feeling far away from home.
For those of us with Coloradoan roots, whether we find ourselves in Los Angeles, Chicago, or somewhere else this time of year, hearing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s song, Colorado Christmas, brings tender pangs of longing:
But all along the Rockies you can feel it in the air
From Telluride to Boulder down below
The closest thing to Heaven on this planet anywhere
Is a quiet Christmas morning in the Colorado snow
As you enter the Advent season, what seasonal songs and carols hold a special place in your own heart? What place on this planet is closest to Heaven for you?
On the first Sunday of Advent this year we hear from the Prophet Isaiah (Is 2:1-5),
…In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it;…
The image of all nations streaming toward the Lord’s house stirs memories of a time my mother and father traded Christmas in Colorado for a week with me in the Windy City. We chanced upon an exhibit of crèches from around the world. The centerpiece was a large display of finger-tall figures approaching the Holy Family from every direction. Diverse people in regional attire, various modes of transportation, as well as animals from around the globe, were headed for the manger. I was mesmerized, grateful to the artist for helping me look with the Holy Trinity from their heaven’s-eye-view upon the longings of God’s children, drawn to encounter Jesus at his first home away from Home.
Each year Christian hearts are drawn to return to this story of Jesus’ birth. His human origin story is especially resonant in the Northern Hemisphere as our Advent journey takes us through the longest nights of the year. We yearn for the days to grow longer, for light and peace, justice and mercy, love and truth, to become more present in the world.
I had the great gift of experiencing a part of my family’s origin this past summer while traveling through Ireland, the birthplace of my great-grandfather in County Roscommon. Some branches of our large family tree still live in the area, one of whom continues to run the farm in Laragan.
The aging cottage where previous generations were born and raised before a peat fire now has a metal roof instead of thatch. It’s covered with vines, holding old tools, cobwebs, and memories. I lingered by the splintered doorway close to my grandmother’s cousin, delighting in her childhood stories, and recalling family reunions and visits from other American cousins.
Unexpectedly moved, my eyes misted as I gazed across the road. Light and shadow played in an elderly overgrown apple orchard next to the new house. I’d never been to this farm before, yet felt welcomed. Embraced by a spirit of love, a place and people known only through stories recounted over the years, what grace to encounter the source of their incarnation on summer vacation, a taste of Christmas in July.
Isaiah goes on to say:
…many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths. …
I had this experience of God providing instruction at both the exhibit of the crèches and great-grandfather’s Irish home. I learned from the generous welcome of families who love to feed hungry, weary travelers. Through tales of brave souls drawn down a path to new life, I was encouraged by their hope-filled journeys to unknown shores. I was inspired by accounts of love and sacrifice, letting children grow, forgiving long-held grudges, and finding ways to maintain ties during long periods of separation.
I invite you to take some quiet moments during Advent to reflect on your own “Graced History”. Where and from whom have you come? What highlights of your origin story might you want to share as you gather to celebrate the coming of Christmas? What are others’ treasured stories you want to hear again?
”Images of Jesus’ nativity remind us that God has made our world his home,” notes John Cavadini, McGrath-Cavadini Director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life (Notre Dame). Sign-up to pray with the Institute’s Digital Advent + Christmas Crèche Calendar. Or journey with the hopes and needs of our global family through Catholic Relief Services’ digital Advent calendar.
While decking your halls with cherished keepsakes, or pausing to catch your breath between batches of gingersnaps, put on some music and let yourself wander through memories as you listen to your favorite Christmas albums, CDs, or playlists. Here is one of my favorite collections for Advent: A Winter’s Solstice II.
Let us guide you on a path of prayer that strengthens your knowing that God was, is, and will always be with you. You may wish to join others for Living into Advent: An Ignatian Path of Prayer for Individuals and Small Groups, offering an Ignatian guide to a deeper, more personal, and more meaningful Advent season.
Finding yourself dealing with grief this Advent season? Join us for a live virtual retreat on Grieving with Jesus During Advent: Receiving Light in the Darkness this week.
Photo by Vidar Nordu-Mathisen on unsplash.com