Thoughts and Tips for Advent and Christmas
"Stay with us, for the shadows fall long, and evening is far spent. So He went in to stay with them” (Luke 24:29). Travelers said this to Christ, before checking into Hampton Inn for the evening. We too – travelers on this earth and in time – speak these words to Christ this Advent. The sun sets on history. Time passes. The world grows darker. The days grow short. The world nears its End. On the surface of things, evil seems to increase. "But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge of evil will increase” (Daniel 12:4). All is not well. But there is something beyond, above and beneath the surface. The travelers to Emmaus felt this — even before they knew it was the Lord — when they begged Him to stay with them. Things were getting darker, but they sensed Light in this fellow traveler. They detected a promise in the One who would reveal Himself in the breaking of the bread.
“The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” (Jeremiah 33:14)
As the sunshine of history sets, the Sunrise of Eternity — Jesus Christ — illuminates a New Creation. Baptism begins this Sunrise: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2). We don’t normally recognize it. The disciples en route to Emmaus didn’t recognize it. But the New Day of Jesus Christ is at hand. Advent invites us to be attentive to his Second Coming. From now until December 17th, we await the Last Judgment.
“Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
(Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1:78-79)
Advent prepares us for Christ’s coming. We reconcile with God and neighbor. We make a good Confession. We meditate on the daily Gospels of the Mass. We meditate on the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. We are attentive to the spiritual needs of our family and the needs of the poor.
December 17th will begin our Novena – a nine-day preparation – for Christmas. Christmas celebrates the First Coming of Christ. So make the season warm and festive. Make it intimate, family oriented, simple, joyful and peaceful. Minimize electronics, wireless, TV, phones, entertainment and social media. Maximize actual togetherness and family.
Here’s another tip for the Season: Set up your manger scene on December 17th, but put the Baby Jesus in his crib on Christmas Eve. Wait until December 20th, or later, to decorate your Christmas tree. Plan to keep the Tree up, if possible, until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation – unless the drying needles become hazardous. At least, keep the tree up through the Epiphany. Whatever you do, don’t take it down on December 26th! Christmas doesn’t end on Midnight after the 25th! Christmas is an Octave, an Eight Day celebration: December 25th through January 1st, the Solemnity of the Mother of God. And don’t forget the Twelve Days of Christmas, which last from Christmas Day until the Epiphany. Attend Mass on New Year’s Eve. St. Agnes will have a 5:00 pm Vigil Mass on New Year’s Eve. Commend the New Year to the Mother of God! On New Year’s Day, we’ll have two Masses: 9:00 am and 11:00 am. Leave your mangers up until the Feast of the Presentation, February 2nd.
Family Tips for Advent and Christmas Eve
Advent Wreath (Starting the First Sunday of Advent): The Advent wreath has German origins. It symbolizes the millennia from Adam to Christ, when the world awaited its Redeemer. It also represents the years awaiting His Second Coming. The three purple candles represent the penance of waiting. The rose (pink) candle, which is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent, represents the first rays of dawn before the Sunrise of Christ. The Third Sunday is called “Gaudete” (“Rejoice”) Sunday, from the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.” That means, “Rejoice in the Lord always: I say it again, Rejoice!” There are many prayers and readings that you can say as a family in your personal Advent wreath candle lighting ceremony. Do it as a family daily before dinner. Each child can take turns lighting the candles.
St. Nicholas Day (December 6th): This is a highlight of Advent. Each child puts out a shoe the night before St. Nicholas Day, hoping that the kind bishop – with his miter, staff, and gift bag – will pay a visit. Fill the kids’ shoes with treats. The current Santa Claus (the Coca-Cola version) is modeled after St. Nicholas. For centuries, many families would give gifts on both December 6th and Christmas. Do this!
The Mary Candle (December 8th, Immaculate Conception): Attend Mass on December 8th, a Holy Day of Obligation. Put a candle with a blue ribbon, or a blue candle, by a statue or picture of the Virgin Mary. Light the candle before dinner to remind each family member of Mary’s eager expectation of Jesus, the Light of the World. Then read this prayer, adapted from the Rites of Baptism, which is said by the priest after the baptism candle is lit: “This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. In Baptism, you have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as a child of Light. Keep the flame of Faith alive in your heart. When the Lord comes, go out to meet Him with all the Saints in the Heavenly Kingdom.”
St. Lucy Cakes (December 13th): St. Lucy was a Virgin and Martyr for the Faith, like our patroness, St. Agnes. Her feast day begins the Christmas season in Sweden. Her life story can be found in most saints’ books. So can a recipe for the traditional “St. Lucy Cakes.” Before the evening meal, read a short passage about her life, and then say this prayer: O St. Lucy, you preferred to lose your eyes than lose the Light of Faith. You preferred that “purity of heart,” by which we see God. Through a miracle, God gave you another pair of perfect eyes to show that there is nothing more beautiful than the Light of Faith. Protect us against all eye diseases. And preserve us from the darkness of sin. O St. Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation and the glow of the sun, which remind us of the Father’s infinite Beauty. St. Lucy, protect my eyes and preserve my faith. Amen.
The Empty Manger (Starting December 17th): Each child may have his or her own personal manger. Or, there may be one manger for the whole family. The idea is that when acts of charity, service, sacrifice, or kindness are done in honor of Baby Jesus, they are a birthday present for Him. Each time a child does a good deed, her or she receives a piece of straw to put into the manger. Then, on Christmas Eve, Baby Jesus is placed in the manger. Encourage your children to make Jesus’ bed as comfortable as possible through their good deeds. Explain that Christ’s gift of Himself at Christmas and Easter enables us to be part of God’s family.
The Nativity Scene (Starting December 17th): Set up the Christmas manger as a family. Mary and Joseph can be set up away from the manger, as if they were traveling to Bethlehem. Each day from December 17th until Christmas, Mary and Joseph can be moved a little closer to the manger. Older children can make life-size Nativity models, carve them, cut them out from cardboard, or set up pre-made figures. Creative ideas are without limit. Place the Nativity scene where many can admire the children’s efforts to give God glory.
Christmas Baking (December 20th): There are many recipe books available to find great traditional Christmas baking ideas. Christmas baking usually starts around December 20th for a good reason: the house smells of baking and fresh wreaths. The glory of Christmas is close! Move the manger to a focal point. Add lights to the Nativity, to be lighted on Christmas Eve.
Milk Toddies (December 21st-24th): Whip up vanilla ice cream, whole milk, vanilla extract, sugar and a raw egg (one per serving) and a jigger of bourbon (per serving, optional) in a blender. Pour in a cocktail glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Raise a toast, and say this prayer:
Loving Mother of the Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea,
Assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again.
To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator,
Yet remained a virgin after as before.
You who received Gabriel's joyful greeting, have pity on us poor sinners.
The Christ Candle (Christmas Eve): A large white candle can be used for the Christ Candle. The idea is to decorate it with symbols for Christ. Use old Christmas cards, sequins, holly, etc. Light the candle on Christmas Eve to show that the Light of the World has arrived. Continue to light the Christ Candle at Sunday dinner through February 2nd (Feast of the Presentation) to remind your family that Christ is the “Light of the world” (John 8:12).
Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor