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~by Leilehua Yuen
Whatever happened to anticipation? That delightful state of expectant waiting when all things are possible, when the bow is still shiny and glistening, and the wrapping is fresh and clean? In today’s modern world of immediate gratification, of bigger, faster, louder is better, we have lost the peaceful joy of quiet waiting. We have lost the calmness of methodical preparation. We have lost the tender charm of gentle acceptance of a precious gift.
Instead, we are regaled with "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" two months before the arrival of the newborn king, while wandering the aisles of Home Depot. Strident silver bells shrill out as an equally strident bell ringer screams “Merry Christmaaaaaaaaas!” in front of the grocery store. How does the incessant cacaphony allow one to prepare for the arrival of the Prince of Peace?
What War on Christmas? Before the Halloween candy is eaten, we already are casualties of the American War on Advent.
In Hawai`i, we may not have snow on the ground or much nip in the air, but since the days of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, we have celebrated Advent and Christmas.
Advent, that time when the smell of Pinesol foretells the scent of evergreen boughs, and freshly polished silver brings to mind the twinkle of the Christmas Star. Advent, when one gathers together all the correspondance of the year to edit the list of those to whom greetings are sent, along with fond wishes and loving memories. Advent, a magical time of anticipation, of physical and spiritual cleansing, of preparation for the coming of the Son of Man, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords!
Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas. In many Christian families around the world, that is when the decorating of the freshly-cleaned home begins. That Sunday, the Advent Wreath is set out for the first time. The candles of the Advent Wreath represent Jesus as the Light of the World. The first candle, reminding Christians of the prophesies of the Coming of the Christ, symbolizes Hope, and is lit in the evening of the First Sunday in Advent.
On the Second Sunday of Advent, the candle representing Love is lit. The third Sunday, the candle representing Joy is lit. The fourth Sunday, the candle representing Peace is lit. Finally, in the dark of Chistmas Eve, the fifth candle, representing the coming of the Christ, the Annointed, the Light of the World dispelling darkness and bringing light and enlightenment to the World!
Another charming Advent custom is the setting out of the creche figures. In elaborate versions, On the evening of the First Sunday in Advent, the stable with its animals is set up in one part of the house. Mary, Joseph, and the donkey are set up in another. Each night of Advent, the household’s children move the Holy Family closer to the creche. A little dish of water and an apple, some oats, or fresh grass is placed out for the donkey. To the amazement of the children, each morning the donkey has eaten and drunk some of the offerings!
On Christmas Eve, the Holy Family arrives at the Creche. In the morning, there in the manger is the Baby Jesus! It is time to celebrate the Mass of Christ, and begin the Christmas Season. And now, the Magi, those wise men of the East, begin their long journey through the house, following the Star of Bethlehem. Finally, on the morning of January 6, Epiphany, the household’s children find them gathered at the creche with their gifts for the Newborn King. This final celebration symbolizes the coming of the Christ to the Gentiles, and ends the Christmas season.
During the Advent season, meals are often simple, sometimes verging on ascetic. A slightly more elaborate meal is prepared each Sunday, but with only hints of the savory Christmas Feast to come.
Advent hymns are exquisitely beautiful, filled with hope and anticipation, and deserve to be sung and shared at this season. A favorite is Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel. But Come, thou Long Expected Jesus; Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay, and so many others are equally inspiring. The list of marvelous, but seldom heard, Advent hymns goes on and on.
Why do we allow ourselves to be stripped of the joy of anticipation by the crass commercialism of Christmas - a more dangerous assault on the faith than any immagined war by people of other faiths (or non-faiths, for that matter)? Subversion is far more pernicious in its efffects than direct confrontation. How many people are sick and tired of Christmas by December 25? Such a pity, as that day is actually the first day of the Christmas Season, which lasts until January 5.
To protect Christmas, reclaim Advent. Enjoy the sweet anticipation of the Advent season, and allow it to sooth away the frenetic stridence of pre-Christmas commercialism. Let the gift remain in its wrapping until the preparations are complete. Savor the time of waiting. A meal is better when one comes to the table hungry. Rather than Christmas being the end of a grueling mercantile marathon, let it be the beginning of a renewal of hope, faith, joy, and peace.
Leilehua Yuen was ordained in 1986 as a Lay Minister in the Episcopal Church, and received her certificate in Hilo, Hawaiʻi through the Education for Ministry extension program of the Universiy of the South at Sewanee. She later studied with esteemed kupuna "Aunty" Nona Beamer, and is now a traditional Hawaiian cultural practitioner, kumu, kahu, and cultural historian with ecumenical and interfaith leanings.