hunger for a moveable feast

I sometimes find myself longing for an idealized Christian life. Advent is a good example. Only recently has this Evangelical catholic been introduced to the ancient and venerable church tradition of Advent as an extended season of penitence. I admire the eastern church’s witness to the rigor of Advent. I would like to fast. I would like to stay quiet and under-the-radar until Christmas day, and then spend the next twelve days singing glorias while the rest of the world is moaning from its consumer hangover. I’d like to put up my tree on December 25 and take it down on January 6.

However, life is always much more complex. I doubt it was ever really that simple even for the ancients. How many fourth century Christians were stay-at-home farmers or craftsmen, dutifully observing the church year–and how many were, like me, mariners–gone from home and kin half their lives (much more than that, in old days)? How many had children which the magistrate forced them to time-share with an unbelieving, hostile spouse? (Justice–there’s another topic entirely).

Between my sea voyages, bringing to all of you the products which make your standard of living possible, and other mandatory business travels, I will get to open a total of six days of my Advent calendar with my little boy (out of 25). I go back to sea before Christmas proper. When I hand him over to his mother, his Christmas day will be a typical heathen celebration. The green tree will have no spiritual significance; the gifts will be just “stuff”. Santa will just be a jolly man who Tom Hanks takes you to see on a train, who wants you just to “believe” (in what, I wonder). There will be no reading of Isaiah, no Christmas eve communion service, no joyful choirs, no baby Jesus.

If I have Christmas a week early, my son will have some of this Truth. He will go back to his mother’s house full of real wonder. In the back of his head, he will be thinking about much more than just stuff on December 25. For him, and me, true Christmas is a moveable feast; a celebration of gratitude undertaken as exiles.

So, I abbreviate my Advent observances. I shop. I set up the tree. I maintain the coy Santa routine, but we read a bedtime book about Nicholas of Myrna, just for good measure. I don’t fast, but I think about how much I would like to try this spiritual discipline someday. I scrape together what tiny little material joy I can get in order to observe the anniversary of the nativity of our Lord, on whatever day I can do it, in whatever way I can manage to convey this inexhaustible gratitude to my son.

I cry out to God to come to me. I repent of my sins and feel my parched tongue in my throat and the gnawing in my gut. I look up to the heavens: “Lord, if you will open my mouth, and pour in your Living water, I will sing praises to you, me and my household.”

Come Lord Jesus. I need you. I have no spiritual strength to prepare for your coming. Please prepare me.

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~ by mairnealach on December 15, 2006.

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