Thanksgiving came early this year so there is a longer stretch of time between now and the next holiday in the academic calendar, which is Christmas. The time between the two is a magical time of year for students and faculty alike. What’s better than Christmas morning? Why, looking forward to it for nearly a month!
In the Anglican tradition we try to push back at least slightly against the direction our culture has taken Christmas. It was not until the 19th century that Christmas began to undergo commercialization. By the mid-twentieth century, mass media, shopping malls and the Sears & Roebuck catalog had transformed the way we celebrated Christmas, such that no one alive today remembers a simpler time, when Christmas Day passed relatively unnoticed at the market.
It’s okay. Traditions change. We understand that. It is worth remembering, however, what we might have lost in the shuffle. For example, the Christian calendar begins the “new” year on four Sundays before Christmas Day. These are the four Sundays we call Advent. From week to week the lectionary calls our attention to the leading figures we associate with the season – John the Baptist and Mary, for example. The second Sunday in Advent was long known as “Bible Sunday,” emphasizing the reliability and the sure word of God in bringing Messiah into the world in fulfillment of the ancient prophetic writings.
Advent is a time for shadows. The days are getting noticeably shorter so that sunset and twilight are a more conscious part of our daily life. In traditional Christian piety, the darkness of evening is especially associated with Advent. The coming of night communicates to us the transitory quality of life, the futility of so much busy human activity, and the mysteriousness of God’s ultimate purposes. It ought to be acknowledged in some way with stillness, the kind of stillness that one experiences in the hours before dawn. Before Messiah, “long lay the world in sin and error pining,” according to the carol.
One way we prepare for the season of Christmas is with the traditional service of Nine Lessons & Carols. The service only dates to the early 1900’s – by no means ancient – but nevertheless, it is a favorite of Christians across the world. In this service our entire school community gathers while musicians and choristers from grades 5 through 12 lead us with the music of the season. Most importantly, there are nine lessons beginning in the book of Genesis and concluding with the Gospels, that recount the story of redemption from beginning to end. Notably, there is no homily or sermon – just the story of the Bible in its own words.
Many folks at New Covenant don’t attend this service until their child reaches the age of participation, thinking, “Oh, that’s not for us; we don’t need one more thing in our busy holiday calendar!” But when they eventually experience their first L&C, the universal response is, “I had no idea how beautiful this is and how it helped me understand the season.”
So go ahead. Push back with us at least slightly against the noise of the holiday. You don’t have to wait until your child plays an instrument or sings in the choir. Every family, every child is invited to join us. We have plenty of parking and plenty of seating. Bring your grandparents and even your friends to enjoy a few moments of reflection as the Gospel is celebrated in word and song at this year’s Lessons & Carols Service.