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The Rest of the Merry Story

It’s fibrous and tight. It’s perfectly cylindrical. It’s the cause of death – for a beautiful Japanese Maple that graced our yard. We never transplanted the baby sapling out of its original container and this is the root system that wound round and round on itself. The tree, which was from one of the many seeds that start themselves from the parent tree in our yard, looked to be thriving and fine last year. But this summer had a long dry spell and the tree died.

We had forgotten it was still in the plastic.

Or maybe we were just too lazy to transplant it.

Sometimes we get too busy to remember some vital information. I often feel that way around this time of the year. As I pull down the attic stairs and climb up the rickety planks to get to bins marked “Christmas” -or sometimes “Xmas” if there wasn’t much room - I wonder if what I’m getting ready for is the celebration of Jesus. Do the red ribbons and greenery that I love to wrap the house in bring the joy and hope of the Christmas spirit? Does the tangle of lights- that invariably light up half the string- fill or frustrate me?

Am I missing something?

Did you know that this past Sunday marked the second Sunday in Advent? It’s not a tradition that I’ve ever really adopted, but I’m wondering if this church tradition of getting ready for “the big day” might not help expand the meaning of Christmas beyond the plastic bins I keep it contained in.

If you’re like me, you may have seen the Advent wreath candles lit in church but I wasn’t even sure what the word meant, so I googled it. According to the online dictionary, “advent” is a noun that means:

- the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event (as in: "the advent of television").

Synonyms: arrival · appearance · emergence · materialization · surfacing · occurrence · dawn · origin · birth · rise · development · approach · coming · looming · nearing · advance

The Dictionary also mentioned that “advent” refers to the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays. The advent that is celebrated is both the historical arrival of Jesus Christ and also the predicted coming or second coming of Christ. It was traditionally observed with fasting and preparation.

What we know today as the Advent Wreath traces its origins to a German Protestant pastor who worked among the poor in 1839. According to Wikipedia, Johann Hinrich Wichern came up with the idea to help the children he taught as they awaited Christmas. He made a ring of wood, with nineteen small red tapers and four large white candles. Every morning a small candle was lit, and every Sunday a large candle.

The custom then adopted a wreath, or crown, made of fir tree branches knotted with a red ribbon and decorated with pine cones, holly, laurel, and sometimes mistletoe. The number four represents the four Sundays of Advent, and the green twigs are a sign of life and hope. The fir tree is a symbol of strength and laurel a symbol of victory over sin and suffering. Evergreens do not lose their leaves and thus represent the eternity of God. The flames of candles are the representation of the Christmas light approaching and bringing hope and peace, as well as the symbol of the struggle against darkness.

The Advent wreath is typically adorned with candles, usually three violet or purple and one pink, the pink candle being lit on the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. A fifth white candle, known as the Christ Candle, can be placed in the middle of the wreath, to be lit on Christmas Eve or Day.

Looking this up reminded me of the root ball and how I assumed the tree was only what I saw on top – while there’s so much more.

The Christmas celebration of family, food, gifts and singing – while a wonderful tradition – is like the baby tree stuck in the plastic container if my only anticipation is for being "merry." Because the arrival of the Son of God being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to a young Jewish mother betrothed, but still a virgin, is just the start of the story.

Because at some time in our life, we all face the part of the story that mentions the darkness – both in the world and in our own hearts. Especially this year, we may have suffered or lost loved ones and feel that tinsel and ribbon don’t do justice to the occasion, because what we can’t see or seem to forget is that God didn’t send Jesus to just be the savior of the world 2,000 years ago; He wants to be our savior today and every day. Advent points us to so much more.

When we relegate the observance of Christmas to just the birth – both of Jesus and possibly or own faith encounter, it is like we stunt the potential for growth. We may not even realize the limits that ‘all fun and no seriousness’ place on the roots of our souls.

This Christmas let's remember the story doesn’t end there. We know Jesus didn’t stay in the manger. Just as our faith doesn’t stay in its infant stage. There are seasons of growth, harsh winters, scorching summers that go along with every life’s journey. And this is when our roots need to grow deep and spread out. If we contain our celebration to just a gift that was given once we may find it can’t survive a dry spell.

And I don’t want to be like that root ball that was so poorly nourished that it strangled the life right out of the trunk. No, I want to be like advent: emerging - arriving - dawning - coming. Can you imagine?! Ever Green.

For ten beautifully simple ideas about how to celebrate Advent, click here.


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