Saturday, November 26, 2016

Christmas Meditation: "What's this Advent Thing?"

photo by Gil Garcia / flickr

Like most card-carrying-bonfide-Southern Baptists I came to Advent late. After all--I grew up in a church where ceremony of any kind was suspect. Kat-lick--we would say. No robes--no candles except for weddings--and we hoped most brides would keep them to a minimum. The closest we ever got to the celebration of Christmas in that mill village was when the mill officials came down from Olympus and handed out fruit baskets. Santa Claus--or a sorta reasonable facsimile-- would waddle in and the Christmas celebration would begin. By the next day--most of the fruit and the candy and that handful of nuts would have disappeared. Maybe we sang a few Christmas songs on Sunday--but we would keep our Church celebrations to a minimum.

Meanwhile back at home my Mother had already sent our "colored woman" to the liquor store (after dark to get the whiskey for the Fruit cake. At night because everybody knew who this black lady worked for--and they would spread the rumor that the Lovette's were lushes--which Baptists supposedly were not. We got out the silver and gold spray paints and sprayed leaves and branches for the mantle. We dragged in a huge Christmas tree for our little house--decorated usually with blue lights. I can't remember why except we thought that was very cool. Meanwhile in the kitchen Mama and our maid were busy baking cake after cake. We bought two hams--one fresh and one cured--a big fat chicken--my Mama said old turkeys don't make good dressing. And the presents began to pile up. We had no idea what this Advent was. But the whiskey bottle was empty.

I think the first time I heard the word, Advent I said, "E-vent?" And the response: "No--Advent!" "What does that mean?" Piously someone said: "It means you are spiritually getting ready for Christmas and it takes four weeks to get there. "Four weeks!" I said. "Yes" was the answer.

Well, I grew up some and went off to college and somewhere along the line I visited a church when somebody walked down the aisle and lit some candles while the choir sang softly. It moved me terribly. So when I finally became Pastor of that little church on a side highway in western Kentucky I tried to introduce Advent to my congregation. Something new--of course they were suspicious. But since they didn't want to hurt the new Pastor's feelings--at least at that point--they said, "Well--go ahead." I don't remember much about that except the first Sunday our head usher, Miles came forward as the choir tried to sing--and lit all five candles! I don't know how we backed out of that fiasco--but the church lived ("the gates of ha-il will not prevail!!") and so did the green Pastor and even the Christmas season.

Well since I have cashed in my Union card and when people say: "You--you are a Baptist!" I say: "Not that kind of Baptist." So somewhere along the line I learned more about the meaning of the season. You can't just get up on Christmas morning, open your presents and then somewhere in the day maybe, maybe think of the Lord Jesus asleep in the hay. But not often. Advent is expectation. Advent is getting ready. Advent means: Prepare ye..." Advent means pondering the mystery so great that it just washes over you in wonder, love and praise.

So--occasionally I have donned a robe. We finally taught those that lighted the wreath which candle comes when. We added a little later a Chrismon tree and put wreaths and candles in the windows--and just before Christmas Eve we lined the pews with candlelight. And for those four weeks every heart, one way or another was trying as best we could to prepare the way and hopefully hear heaven and nature sing.

With all the hoopla around us and all this despair-celebration over the Trump victory--we need in Advent. To tell each other the story of a poor couple who traveled a long way--with doors slammed shut along the way--wound up in as cow stable--because there was no room in the inn. Hmm. Sounds familiar doesn't it.

My favorite Advent memory was that year when it was Christmas Eve and the Staff and Choir were up in the balcony. Out of the darkness a little boy, holding a candle came down the aisle softly singing: "This little light of mine." And, with tears in my eyes, I whispered: "Yes." And Christmas came.

So I look forward now to "Come O Come Emmanuel."  I love the Processions and the robes and the candles and the recurring memory of the tiny Jesus asleep in the hay. And when I hear the Advent words: "The word became flesh and dwelt among us...and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out" I know why there is an Advent. Through the years it has carried me through warring churches and denominational squabbles and assassinations and Watergates and Viet Nam and saying goodbye to parents and friends and too many boys and girls still coming home in  boxes. And Advent tells me what it has told people through the ages--that politics does not have the last word but underneath it all there is something we cannot see and sometimes even fathom. Nothing, folks, no-thing will separate us from the love of God. And that's why this year I'll once again show up, dab my eyes, feel a lump in my throat and once again, I hope, say: "Yes."

--Roger Lovette /

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