ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS SEASON
a time for singing
This time of the year is dedicated to singing of a very particular kind. Well before Christmas we hear and sing joyous songs called Christmas carols. These hymns are just one of a kind – we sing them this time of the year, and never again. (It is, for example, impossible to sing Silent Night on any other day of the year than Christmas Day, well in Church.) That is how particular the theme of Christmas carols is. Our richest tradition of songs of praise of God falls in this short time. There hardly is a tradition of singing Advent hymns outside of the liturgy, expressing a time of waiting for the coming of our Lord.
Why are we so fond of the hymns of this time of the year? There may be many reasons, most of which, I imagine, are filled with memories, from childhood until adulthood. Just consider this: at what other time of the year do people come together to sing hymns just for the sake of it? And I mean singing them not in Church, but outside. In a southern suburb in Cape Town, people gather every year on a street corner with some open space to sing Christmas carols. And this happens every year without fail, and at no other time of the year. Around the city, Churches, groups, organizations, etc, arrange Christmas carols. People are invited to bring a picnic basket and enjoy the evening in a park while they sing carols.
We would be well within our right to ask: do you understand what you are singing? And even further: do you believe and accept what you are singing? Yes, there can be no doubt: Christmas has a spell over us, and no matter what, its traditions live longer than the faith practice of many people. As Christians we have a different reason to sing. We sing the Incarnation of the Son of God, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the Word that has become flesh, into our hearts. We sing until we find the emotion of joy at the fact that God Emmanuel is echoing in our feelings, never to be forgotten, and every year to be re-awakened. In these Christmas carols we profess who we are – Christians who believe that God became man to save the world and erect the kingdom of mercy, truth, justice and love. Indeed, we sing that our Saviour was born and will come again; we sing that we live since his Resurrection and Ascension into heaven in a time of hope and under the reign of divine love. We sing that when God became man, man became one with God.
And what does that mean for us, as we have to endure the tension between holding back during Advent and already singing and hearing all those carols? The Church helps us, in that we don’t sing Christmas carols during Advent during Holy Mass. Nor do we sing the great hymn of praise, called the Gloria. The Gloria will be intoned again on Christmas (during the Christmas Vigil) to signal the great joy that the birth of Jesus brought to the world and humankind. On the other hand, it is difficult to withdraw from the carols. However, we can make it a useful exercise, realizing that these carols convey the message of the birth of Christ.
Is there any kind of exercise we can do during this time? There must be many, but I suggest that we start by placing the emphasis on the children around us. In other words, practice social concern and justice! In simple English: look after them, especially the ones who are left out of the money and family loop. Secondly, bring the family together for singing. Read the readings of the day and sing those carols. These moments will convey unforgettable experiences for the family and the children for many, many years to come. The atmosphere of Advent and Christmas is best captured within the family environment. Singing carols and reading the Scriptures, which prophesy the birth of Jesus, might just me a remedy to create a peaceful atmosphere at home. Thirdly, do exercise in some way restraint with the amount of food and drink we consume. In doing so, we are sacrificing to appreciate even more the festive moments. Fourthly, look out for someone in need of a plate of food, especially a child.
As Christians we must make this time the proudest moment of the year. The Christmas carols are not all just snow, jingle bells, and dashing through the snow. They also reflect the harsh reality of poverty, homelessness and the threat of death to life. There is always an undertone of melancholy and even sadness around Christmas because the emotions are raw, the wounds open and the expectations of happiness and peace are so much higher. When they lack, the pain is worse. This time, therefore, calls also for silence and prayer. Every emotion of joy and pain should become a burning fire that burns the name of Jesus deeper into our hearts. Then we can sing: Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Fr Ivanhoe Allies (Bothasig)
November 29, 2018