Across the world today Christians are observing the first Sunday of Advent. It is a time of celebration leading to the biggest birthday party of the year.
When I was a child we didn’t really observe Advent, it wasn’t part of our church tradition. The exception was the advent calendar we children received on December 1 each year, with a little chocolate for each day leading up to December 25. Some years there would also be an advent candle with the same principle that we always seemed to get behind on.
For my wife, raised in a more liturgical tradition, Advent has always been a big deal. For each of the four Sundays of Advent she likes to do something special with family and friends. Today it is the decorating of the tree, then our siblings (at least the ones in Ottawa) and spouses will join us for cake.
My job is to put the tree up and out the lights on, something I have already done. That way no-one has to wait while I try to find the optimal way to string the lights or try and figure out why I can’t get the base to stay together.
If I was more ambitious I would purchase a real tree rather than using an artificial one. I love the smell of fir – but it is a lot more work to keep the tree watered so it doesn’t shed, and then there is the need to dispose of it afterward. The artificial tree just goes back in the box. Plus, I know it fits the space I have – a real tree might not.
Our tree won’t win any awards for aesthetic appeal, but we like it. Many of the ornaments we place on the tree have their own story and bring back memories.
There are the “pine cones” that my parents put on their tree for their first Christmas together, almost 70 years ago. There is the one made by a neighbour in Liberia for our son’s first Christmas. There are little red apples that I bought for my wife the first time we spent Christmas overseas, ornaments identical to the ones on her parents’ tree.
Then there is the cat, the largest ornament, and not one I am fond of. At some point today I am sure we will find her perched in the branches, as we do several times every Advent season.
The tree, the ornaments, the various rituals of the Sundays of Advent are only a reminder. They point us to Christmas and the miracle of a baby who was also God incarnate.
For our society Christmas has become an end in itself. Once the New Year rolls around we put the tree away and forget all about Jesus until it become time to take it out of storage again.
Yet, as the Sundays of Advent lead us to Christmas, Christmas itself points to Good Friday and Easter. Christmas is only a beginning. What comes later is even more important.