My kids love Christmas decorations. The day after Thanksgiving is exciting. We drive around and the homes to and from where we go are decorated with lights.
Our home is not. As a Catholic, setting up decorations before Advent even starts is too soon. Yet, I must admit. I’m with my kids. I enjoy seeing the lights on my neighbor’s homes.
Living In the World
Does this position make me a hypocrite? Or worse, perhaps a bit sanctimonious? I feel a personal tension. I do not think it’s right to put up decorations so soon. But I do take delight when I see them on other’s homes.
Where I live, where the sun now sets before five in the evening, the lights and holiday decorations make a lot of sense. Winter is bleak. Clear nights without the moon are cold. Shorter days make it harder to keep your energy up at the end of the day. There’s some invigorating about seeing a home light up. There’s something warm about seeing lights.
My kids seemingly love it. They know the lights mean “Christmas.” At their little age, they know that Christmas has a connection with Christ, but their conception of Him is still very ephemeral. Yes, of course, Jesus. But Christmas means presents, treats, time with family, and decorations.
But Not Of the World
As a Catholic, Advent is a new season. It is a time of penance and preparation for the coming of Christ. Of course, we’re not historical reenactors as Catholics. We are not merely celebrating the birth of Christ, as an historical event. Rather, many of the readings and the season itself point us towards our preparation for Christ when He comes again.
The second coming of Christ will happen at an unknown time. And in all likelihood, it will occur at different times for each one of us. That is, while as a Church, we look forward to Christ to come judge the living and the dead, we know that for each one of us, death will represent the particular coming of Christ in our life.
Advent is about the anticipation for this second coming.Few of us eagerly await our death and judgment (or His second coming!) the way a child waits for Christmas morning. Yet, in many ways, the Church asks us to do just that.
Of course, this means that while we do live in the world, we cannot live as one of the world. We must always ready to meet Christ and to be prepared to render accounts. This very much pushes back on a notion that we should get caught up in the trappings of the season of Christmas, before it is time. This is a time of preparation and penance. And as such, a certain asceticism is good for our focus and our soul. The season of Advent then is a season of Grace. God’s presence is already Emmanuel, with us.
Let Us Decorate
There is a middle position that is not syncretism. As the calendar turns from November to December, we can start a slow preparation of our homes and families for the coming feast. That starts with the Advent wreath. Seeing the Advent wreath on our tables, as we see it at the foot of our altars, is a reminder that the home is a type of domestic Church. Having calendars that count down the feast by remembering particular saints or acts of piety each day help focus on Christ.
But perhaps, too, we can decorate our homes. But slowly. For example, we’ve placed electric candles in our windows. These dim lights, we tell our children, symbolize a welcome greeting to the guest and stranger in this season. Next week, we will place the large creche (sans the Infant Christ) in our front yard. We might also put the lights out, although not yet turn them on. I think we will be getting our tree, since the Christmas tree farm closes after next weekend. But we will wait another weekend to decorate. The point we are trying to convey to our children is one of balancing anticipation with constant preparation.
This is the point of Advent, not just during this liturgical season but for our lives. We are in a state of constant preparation so that when Christ finally comes in our life again, we move quickly and eagerly to meet him. For these are the words of the collect of the First Sunday of Advent:
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.