Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Do Not Be Afraid, Mary

The first time I visited Taylor's family was during Advent, just after Thanksgiving.  Raised Roman Catholic, I was used to starting advent sometime in December, but Byzantine advent starts two weeks earlier.  The colors, instead of purple and rose (a red-headed Jesuit once emphatically told me it was not pink), are a somber, but still lively red--the color of fasting.

The fast moves through Thanksgiving (Byzantines always make room for feasts!) and the last days of November, entering December with the triumphant feast of Holy Father Nicholas.  As December 25 approaches, everything about the liturgy tingles with anticipation--the melodies, the antiphons, the psalms, the Gospel, and the singing!

In fact, the intensity of the singing in Taylor's house sometimes causes a chuckle during the second and third weeks of advent, when the prokimemon is proclaimed: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have won God's favor.  You will conceive from the Spirit and bear God's son."  Do not be afraid, visitors, we sing this loud because we are very excited for Christmas to come... It's a wonderful way to prepare for the feast. 

So now, in the middle of November every year, I get to start preparing for Christmas.  Truthfully, I don't mind :) I love Christmas.  And Advent.  As my friend Mary says, it's important to keep a spirit of Advent along with the excitement and anticipation of Christmas in mind.  So, (like Mary), we wait for Jesus to arrive.

I decorate our icon corner with the nativity set (sans bebe, until Christmas) and put up the red cloth behind the crucifix.  We have a red candle on the shelf instead of a white or gold one.  We bring out our six-candle advent wreath and our nightly prayer books.  And we wait. and sing. and pray. and fast.

Then, on December first, I feel like the rest of the world catches up.  All of a sudden, everyone else is also thinking about Christmas and gifts and decorating and trees and cookies and traveling.  And all of a sudden, my advent becomes rushed.  When I first encountered the 40 days before Christmas, I thought: "why would we need another two weeks of waiting and planning and fasting?!"  But now, having experienced it, it's more like the perfect, gentle, quite ushering in of the Truth behind the season.  It's almost like getting a head start.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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