I've heard a few people talking recently about Advent being a time of penitence, almost like Lent light. There seems to be a line of thinking that we need to prepare ourselves in a solemn and contemplative manner for Christmas. To search our hearts and right our wrongs. Then, as with Easter Sunday, we can actually let loose and be happy on Christmas Day.
This would explain why I've heard such a strong aversion to having Christmas trees and decorations in churches. It doesn't look solemn enough. But of course there was someone I met who thought that Christmas trees were too phallic an image to have in a church. They had an altogether different problem...
Going back to Advent, is it really the counting down of the days that we have left to get our sins in order?
That just plain doesn't make sense to me.
So say that in just over three weeks time it will be your birthday. Are you feeling the need to be penitential? Or are you really freaking excited? Maybe you have big plans to spend time with your family and friends, perhaps having a party and a huge celebration. Maybe you want to spend it with only those nearest and dearest to you and have a quiet meal. Either way, you're probably looking forward to it.
In the Christian calender this is the birthday. This is the one big birthday party that everyone is invited to. Not only those with the most reverent hearts get in at the door. Can you imagine if it was your birthday and everyone decided that to mark the occasion they had to be soor-faced and glum? What a message of peace and love that is.
So why do people do this? Is it that we can't be happy about something to the same degree if we haven't felt some level of sadness leading up to it? How British a notion. Feels positively Victorian. You cannot notice the light unless you have sat in the dark. Sounds a little to me like an excuse for not waking up in the morning and marvelling at the light every single day. Once you notice light and keep your eye on it you will notice when it changes.
I also think that there are many other times of the year to work on this. Even if you need to take a serious look at how you view and value the world, why save it specially for Christmas? This holiday is not based on death, but on life. Easter? Much more fitting. Someone dying for your lack of awareness and love seems a much better time to think about that. The miracle of birth, with grace and peace coming to this world seems much more fitting for joyous thanks and acknowledgement.
At the end of the day we sing "Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant", "God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing ye dismay" and "Joy to the world". Perhaps, and what a thought this is, God might just want us to be happy.