Sunday, December 03, 2006

Advent, 2006 A.D.

Merry Christmas!Today is the First Sunday of Advent in many Christian churches. Time for the Gates of Vienna image to appear.

This is the beginning of the new liturgical year, a cyclical commemoration that begins with the season of Advent and follows with the Octave of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and ends with the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. The Sundays following Epiphany vary, depending on when Lent begins, and that is dependent on when Easter occurs - which is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. Which is why, unless you’re an astronomer, it’s best to just look up on the calendar.

Anyway, from today until the last Sunday of Epiphany can be considered the first long phase of the liturgical year. It begins with the solemnity of Advent, a month long period of preparation for the feast of Christmas. Since about the 4th century A.D., Advent has been observed in some form or other, usually as a period of fasting and an interior preparation for the coming celebration. My guess is that it grew out of a communal need to explain why the Parousia, so central to very early Christian belief, still had not occurred.

Even as a kid, I preferred Advent to the actual feast of Christmas. With purple vestments and a kind of hushed pause, Advent brought with it the mournful Jewish roots of a world waiting in darkness for redemption:

O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear…


Some authorities say this is a 12th century hymn, but you have only to hear its echo of longing against the encroaching dark of Winter to know “Veni Emmanuel” goes back far earlier than that, back to the monasteries and their prayers in plain chant. This is an ancient one, and could as easily be sung by Jews as by Christians. I am no authority on these subjects but I intuit that its origins lie in the very beginnings of Eastern Christianity, before the Church divided.

Despite ongoing persecution of Christianity in the very places which gave it birth, and despite the attempt today by some groups in the US to eliminate any public mention of religion or religious holidays, Christianity and Christmas stubbornly persist. It is not yet against the law to say “Merry Christmas” out loud. But Lord knows the ACLU will spend millions in an attempt to stamp it out as though it were a smoldering cigarette. After all, what are they but a branch of the “Bah Humbug” Brigade with a most un-merry mission?

Isn’t it good to know that all the litigation in the world cannot prevail against the spirit inherent in the desire for Christmas? Please, don’t anyone tell them that Christmas is really a minor feast, theologically speaking. The Big One, the cornerstone of it all, is Easter, followed by Pentecost.

Shh - let them keep stomping up and down about Nativity Scenes and such. What they don’t know can’t hurt us.

Meanwhile, keep the children away from the candles.

7 comments:

Always On Watch said...

I love "Veni Emmanuel." Its ties to plainsong are obvious.

I also love this one. I like to vary the length of holding the cadences.

Stephen Renico said...

I've often wondered what would happen if we Christians started acting like Muslims every time their religion gets insulted.

I'll say this for them: they sure get results with their methods.

Also, would the ACLU and left-leaning BBC come out in favor of "restraint" when it comes to defaming Christianity? (That question, of course, is rhetorical..)

hank_F_M said...

Dymphna

First a have very merry Advent and Christmas and then a happy whatever other holiday you want to celebrate.

Ref Emmanuel
As stand alone antiphons the verses exist in text from the eight century, one (non critical) source says there are second reports from the 4th.

ScottSA said...

Its Advent. Time to start fasting and killing infidels and burning cars. I assume Muslims will cease all violent operations against us out of respect for our religion of peace while we yowl and hang from chandeliers and blow up a few dozen people for insulting the Pope. Its a good time to mobilize the KKK so it stands up for our rights during our peaceful endeavors to bring Trial by Combat back into vogue...

a4g said...

Meanwhile, keep the children away from the candles.

Three days in and we've had a burnt finger and a near-hairtastrophe.

Oh, and three minor meltdowns over whose day to light and whose to blow out.

Gracchi said...

Thanks for the history of advent. I'm an atheist- but really enjoy Christmas- its just good fun and also its a reminder of those out there who are less fortunate and need help which is a good thing to be reminded of.

Dymphna said...

Gracchi--

You've caught it exactly. That's why St Nicholas of Myra is the patron saint, the ikon, of Christmas. He was famous for his anonymous gestures of generosity. Being from a wealthy family of ship builders (4th century), he could afford to help many, many people -- and so he did.