A version of this appeared three years ago, but some of it's worth repeating . . .
As Christmas approaches, the church’s liturgical rhythm seems necessary to save us from ourselves. It’s not just that we have slid, with little resistance, into the larger culture’s gaudy mess that is now the “holiday.” Anyone, religious or not, can see how advertising and general greed have used our hunger against us, stealing right out of our hands our own sense of what is important. But I question that sense of ours. It needs the guidance of ancient ways, with or without a commercialized holiday. Even without a million shopping malls, we would skew Christmas into something that fit our busy self-importance. We need the liturgy, the tradition, the memory of our communion of saints.
The prayers shape our vocabulary, bending our thoughts Godward. The readings demand that we relinquish any stories we are stuck on at the moment. Whatever personal narrative we are chattering about today, it must defer to the Story. And there is a sequence. We must pull our thoughts around the Memories, recite the acts of God. We must listen and wait for our cue to jump in with a phrase or a silence. Yes, we must wait our turn in the processions and the songs and signs. Like any liturgy, the Christmas rituals remind us that we are part of something wonderful, wild, and beyond us. We are not in charge. We don’t have all the information. And everything isn’t up to us.
This season of the year takes us back to the stance of attention, as Advent ushers our wants and wishes through a series of stories about longing and promise and the raw gaps between them. We know that Christmas is coming, that a baby will be born and we will sing our favorite songs again and take special pleasure in the presence of children and the exchange of gifts. But it’s not as simple as that. Between now and the great event, there is waiting, and this waiting is supposed to mean something. It is supposed to accomplish something in us.
I’m thankful for this set number of days that give us space for remembering and time to align our spirits once again with the greater, wider story—of healing, restoration, justice, hope, divine encounter. It is too immense to take in quickly, or in a single holiday. We need the march of the weeks and months, the long breaths between Sundays, to gather to our minds and hearts the story in its entirety. When we live in the rhythm of that story, we have nothing to fear from the garish shopping mall or noisy airwaves. In the great rhythm of the Story, we are folded into God’s arms, one day, one season, at a time.
Copyright © 2008 Vinita Hampton Wright, revision © 2011