The land is white with frost this morning, a perfectly Advent kind of day. My favorite of all seasons is here again. This favoritism of mine puts me a bit out of sync with the commercial world--well, with the secular world altogether. Last night I watched the Hallmark Hall of Fame 2009 Christmas program which I’d recorded on Sunday, a tale about “A Dog Named Christmas.” It had all of the heartwarming themes of a classic dog story--loyalty, courage, devotion--in which friendship with a dog saves someone from a deep hurt that’s taken over his heart. I love dogs, so I appreciated most of Hallmark’s sweet and sentimental narrative. But one thing caught like a claw in my mind. The words, “On December 26th the dog has to go back to the shelter, because that is the day Christmas ends.”
Wait! This family, sweet as they were, was celebrating Christmas all during Advent. They intended to stop on the 26th, just as I will have begun. But then it is almost impossible to buck the culture that surrounds us. Everywhere are Christmas trees and lights and silver bells. And over the years I’ve found myself incorporating many of what used to be exclusively Christmas symbols into my Advent preparations. I just change their meaning a tad. Advent observes these four weeks before Christmas as a time of waiting for the three comings of Christ: the memory of the coming at Bethlehem when, as Father Mike said this Sunday, “God broke through the boundaries of our world”; the awareness of the moment by moment coming of Christ into our individual lives; and the final coming of Christ in the fullness of time. I light my advent candles each night at sunset, praying that the Divine Light will come soon to dispel the darkness. I put up a Christmas Tree right along with everyone else to light the way through the dark wilderness of time. I buy candles and light them in the darkness before dawn each day to burn during prayer.
Wonder mounts each year as we move closer to the Christ-Mass, the thanks-giving celebration for the God-With-Us: the Emmanuel. And that is just the beginning, not the end. Christmas season lasts until February 2nd. Nobody seems to know that anymore, and I find it sad to realize that for most of us the season of joy is cut so short. Tradition has the season continue until the celebration of Candle-Mass, at forty days distant from the Christ-Mass, when according to tradition Mary would have gone to the temple to present her son along with two white doves. It is the day of the old prophets, Simeon and Anna, the day they predict who this child is to be, and open the doors of the mind to the paradox of earthly life. To Mary, Simeon says, “a sword shall pierce your soul.” If Christmas ends, this is the day of that foreshadowing. In some eternal plan, though, it will never end, and there’s the paradox.
Come to think of it--Hallmark has the dog find his way back to the family even though they return him to the shelter as agreed, on the "day that Christmas ends." It’s a classic dog story theme, so I wasn’t surprised. But just now I had to laugh. Even though they told us that Christmas would end on December 26th, that very same night Christmas came back.