Saturday, November 16, 2013
My wife was raised as a Lutheran. Now, for many of you reading this you might associate Lutheranism with churches that do a lot of bake sales or progressive dinners, or women that knit blankets to give away, or perhaps Garrison Keillor and his comedic references to Minnesota Lutherans. But when when I say Lorrie was raised Lutheran, I mean RAISED Lutheran - not with the external trappings that comedically accompany the Lutherans, but with the sensitivity to liturgy, hymns, and what is called "The Church Year". I grew up Presbyterian, which, due to its austere Scottish roots, never paid too much attention to liturgy or the church year. So, for me, becoming a Lutheran also meant embracing this wonderful idea of following a church calendar year, of observing certain church "holidays", and understanding this cycle that, as C.S. Lewis wrote, stays the same every year, but changes every year. The church's calendar year starts on the 1st Sunday of Advent, and if you ever look at a Lutheran hymnal (I never saw this in the Presbyterian hymnals) you will see that the first hymns in the book are Advent, then Christmas, then Epiphany and so on. They are in a chronological order based on that church calendar.
As a family, one thing we have begun to focus on more is to have our household decorations mirror the Christmas season. We set up the outdoor decorations on the closest weekend to the 1st Sunday of Advent, which means I'm usually putting them up Thanksgiving weekend. The first household decorations that come out are the Advent Wreath, which we light weekly while doing readings that are for Advent. We also bring out our Creche, or what is commonly called the "nativity set". With the nativity set, however, we have another Advent tradition. We set up only the manger scene, without the people or animals. Then every Sunday in Advent we light a candle and do readings together as a family, and then we add something to the creche.
In addition, we see the decorating of the house as preparing the house for Christmas, just as we prepare our hearts for Christmas, and so this decorating reflects our inner preparation. The Christmas tree usually goes up a week before Christmas Day, and we decorate it as a family (although I know from personal experience that the kids get bored quickly and we usually have to call them back to help!) Christmas Eve is filled with church and getting gifts secretly wrapped. Christmas Morning is family time with a traditional breakfast. But for us, we observe that older tradition that dates back to pre-retail consumerism. We make sure that Christmas is not just a single day, but as a period of time. You know that song "Twelve Days of Christmas"? It speaks of Christmas starting on the 25th, but it continues until January 6th, which is the traditional observance of when the Magi (3 Wise Men) came to the baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. On that night, that last night of Christmas, the 2 Wise Men are placed into the creche. They actually taken a "journey" through our house, starting in the farthest rooms and each day, moving closer to the creche. Epiphany is also the last night I keep our outdoor decorations lit (and we are the last on the street to do so).
So as we approach this Advent and Christmas season, with the snares of retail commercialism, let us really focus more on the Reason for the Season, the birth of Jesus. Let us decorate with joy, give of ourselves, and sing loudly (or softly) about the coming of the Christ Child, and finally, sing of the Birth of Jesus.