Advent Waiting and Christmas Happiness

As a community, we are blessed with a small but very insightful group of oblates who often say or do things that leave me amazed at both their perceptiveness and their charity. Yesterday I was mulling over a few thoughts about the race towards Christmas and the failure to allow Advent to be Advent. Many people already have their tree up and their house decorated, and some, at least, will have eaten a handful of Christmas dinners before the ‘real’ one on 25 December. To me, living in a monastery, where the liturgy is full of poignant longing for a joy not yet attained, and the house is as bare as can be, with not so much as a Christmas card yet allowed (we do all our decorating on the afternoon of Christmas Eve), it seems a strange waste of opportunity. Advent: the very word means ‘coming’. We are waiting in hope, and if we would celebrate Christmas in all its richness, it is helpful to spend these few short weeks of Advent preparing, not acting as though we were already at Christmas itself. So I was thinking when one of our oblates broke in on my thoughts.

The oblate in question has cancer (please pray for her) and had been nonplussed by some people who were reluctant to wish her a happy Christmas on the grounds that she couldn’t really be happy because she is so ill. Now, I happen to know that the oblate in question is a woman with a delicious sense of humour and a lively interest in all that goes on around her. She has coped with more than one serious illness gallantly and good-humouredly. But that reluctance to wish her a happy Christmas, that awkwardness in the face of illness, what was that about? Why shouldn’t she be wished a happy Christmas, even if, especially if, which God forbid, it should happen to be her last? Wouldn’t we want to surround her with love and good wishes? I certainly would.

Our Christmas happiness stems from the fact that we have a Saviour, Jesus Christ; it does not depend on what we happen to be thinking or feeling on Christmas Day, or any of the days that follow. If it did, some of us might admit that we were not the happiest of people as we struggle with mass catering or try to cope with World War III breaking out among the assembled family and guests!

I think myself the reluctance to wish our oblate a happy Christmas has a double aspect. Part of it stems from a very British awkwardness in the face of illness and death. We are afraid of putting a foot wrong, which generally means we end up making a hash of things. But I think part of it also stems from a fundamentally skewed conception of the feast now gaining ground. Just as many start celebrating Christmas days (even months!) before the actual date, and often take down their decorations before the festivities have run their course (to Epiphany or Twelfth Night), so I think a lot of people have lost sight of the fact that Christmas is about Christ — about God made man, anointed to suffering and death to free us from sin and open the way of salvation.

We celebrate Christmas because God has heard our cry and come to redeem us. We rejoice that he comes among us as a baby, the mighty Word of God crying and gurgling like the rest of us, and that he comes as Saviour of all. Whether rich or poor, young or old, in good health or bad, we share the joy of his coming because we all need his salvation. We are happy because our Christmas joy does not depend on us but on him. That is the crux of the matter.

So, please wish our oblate a happy Christmas if you meet her; and, if you can, let these days of Advent be days when you experience to the full Israel’s longing for the Messiah. Let there be a little darkness, a little spareness, so that when we come to the great festival of light and warmth that is Christmas, we can do so with hearts ready to receive the gift. Sometimes we have to appreciate the vastness of our need if we are to appreciate how amply it has been met. Let us make the most of this waiting time, remembering that it is not about us but about Him; yet the wonder is, we are His happiness even more than He is ours.

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13 thoughts on “Advent Waiting and Christmas Happiness”

  1. Thank you for some frank words about our misplaced sense of what is acceptable when faced with someone with a serious illness.

    Our imagination can sometimes work overtime as we try to work out the feelings of the sufferer and what we can say or do which won’t make them feel worse. In my limited experience their wish is to be treated just as we would when they were in the full bloom of health. The last thing that they need is to be treated like a victim and patronised.

    Living life abundantly seems to feature among that so, Christmas wishes are welcomed, not spurned.

    An example that springs to mind is Denise Inge, the wife of the Bishop of Worcester who died recently – she wrote some wonderful observations and a book during her illness, which were full of hope, not despair. People say she was brave, I would say that she was faithful. Faithful to the hope that she had in the Resurrection and with a profound belief that God’s faithful promise would be fulfilled for her.

    Somehow reading her words inspires, banishes any sense of pity you might have with a glorious feeling of a transfer of grace that was projected through her suffering and ultimate death from her illness.

    I know that some (very few) will wallow in their misery, I ‘m not an advocate of the ‘pull yourself together and get on with life’ brigade, rather a listener and comforter, if that meets their needs, but without pandering, just being kind. And wishing them a happy Christmas would be part of that, whatever their feelings might be.

    • What an extraordinary blog this is. I spent a lot of yesterday reading Thomas Traherne, in part because our blogger is in Hereford, in part because I lived in Teddington and in another part because he is simply so uplifting. I spent another chunk of time looking yet again for a good introduction to the writer and here you are introducing me to Denise Inge; just the Traherne scholar I need. Thank you.

  2. I fear you are right, Sister, with your remark that “a lot of people have lost sight of the fact that Christmas is about Christ”. What I find as concerning, is that some people do not know, have never been told, about Christ, and so have never understood just who’s birthday, it is they celebrate.

  3. I like the way you “do” Christmas. The idea of decorating on the eve brings the event more into view and cuts out the madness which is all I seem to see going on around me.

    Christmas is the start of the story that changes everything. The sentimentally of the worlds idea of it has nothing to do with promise made true. I send Christmas greetings to your Obulate and wish them a happy and peaceful time.

    Happy Christmas to you and the community. Have a blessed time together and thank you for the prayers, blogs and things that brighten our Twitter days

  4. I wish you all the Happiest & Best Christmas. I went to a concert in church on Sunday & as ever, when we sang the carols, my eyes filled with tears. I might not be a regular attendee at church but I do enjoy every year the story of Christmas with its warmth, light & most of all hope.
    As you know its not been the easiest year for me and I too, have been astonished at people’s attitudes to illness & sadly to my close friend’s death but if he were here now we would be planning a good time not sitting around looking mournful. We made sure to make the most of every day over those last few months, which is how we all ought to live, so many put things off for tomorrow only to discover tomorrow never comes.

  5. Wonderful, Sister. So relevant.
    This is the first year that I have really got to grips with the now & not yet of Advent; and it has taken having cancer myself to bring that about. It is a really special time, despite all the difficulties & limitations.
    I am very much looking forward to Christmas Day spent with my children; but it is wonderful actually savouring Advent until that point.
    And, Sister Catherine, while I continue to pray for you daily, I will now also add your (nameless) oblate to those daily supplications.
    Bless you 😀

  6. A wonderful post, with which I agree wholeheartedly. I received my first breast cancer diagnosis exactly a week before Christmas, yet we still managed to have a happy family celebration when the day arrived. I too will add your oblate to my prayers.

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