Working (especially for the church) during Advent can be quite stressful. Not just because of the increased liturgical celebrations, but because the church calendar and the secular world have gotten so out of synch.
Take Christmas decorations. If you “do” Advent in the strictest sense, then you won’t put up your Christmas decorations until Christmas Eve. That means if you decorate your office on Dec. 24, take off the week between Christmas and New Year’s as many do, you’ll come back just in time to take the decorations down on Epiphany.
So the choice becomes, do you just put up Advent decorations and not bother with Christmas decor? Or do you decorate an office that is going to be unused, only to return and take it all down immediately?
While it’s easy to talk about being radical and counterculture in our celebration of Christ’s birth, it’s not simple in reality. I really enjoy having a Christmas tree in my office during the month of December. I like the lights and carols and cookies and good cheer. Postponing all of that until after Dec. 25th feels anti-climatic to me. Refusing to attend Christmas parties in Advent might be good for my soul, but it’s not good for my social life…or my stress level.
I don’t have a solution, but I can tell you what I do. I put up the decorations and play the music according to the secular schedule (well, I wait until after Thanksgiving, unlike the malls). I attend the parties, bake the cookies and all the rest. However, at the same time, I make sure that I pray and reflect on Advent. Externally I’m celebrating.
Internally, I continue to wait.
It’s not really that strange when you think about it. Our faith asks us to live that way all the time. The Kingdom of God is here, in our midst. We are an Alleluia people. However, we are still waiting—waiting for Jesus to return, waiting to see the final manifestation of our redemption, waiting for the fulfillment of all the promises. We celebrate and wait at the same time.
This Advent and Christmas, I encourage you to take time to decide how you want to handle the paradoxes of the season. Make a conscious choice as to how you will deal with the waiting of the church calendar and the celebrations of the secular season. I don’t think it so much matters what you decide as long as you do it prayerfully, deliberately and with intention.
With that, I’d like to leave you with this reflection from Cardinal Ratzinger in his 1986 book, Seek That Which Is Above:
"Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope…."
May your memories be awakened and the doors of your hope opened this Advent and Christmas!