December 4, 2008
It is the season of Advent. We don’t go to a church that recognizes the Church Calendar, but a few years in an Anglican-style church won me over to the beauty and importance of the Liturgy. So we do our own celebration of Advent. I try to do the Daily Office prayers, with the help of Phyllis Tickle’s wonderful guide, The Divine Hours. It is a rare day when I pray through all the offices, but even one or two keeps me in a nice rhythm of praying, and most helpfully, praying with a structure, so that I am mindful of concerns beyond my own little sphere of daily interest. And our family lights a candle on the Advent wreath each evening.
This year we are also doing a “Jesse Tree.” No one I’ve talked to seems to have heard of this, so I don’t think it’s a super-popular Advent activity, but this is what it is… We took a bare branch from a tree, stuck it in a pot, and each night after our candle is lit, we do a reading from the Bible and hang an “ornament” cut from a booklet that I picked up a few years ago. The first reading was an explanation of why it’s called the Jesse tree (“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1) and then goes through the sweeping story God’s interaction with His people – Creation, Fall, various Old Testament stories and characters. It will culminate in the birth of Jesus, the Messiah promised and pointed to throughout the tales of Scripture.
It’s been interesting. Our older girls are really into it. They also like taking turns trying to strike the match to light the candle. (Dave: It’s a good thing you girls have Mom. I’d never let you try that.) Bridget has been a bit more challenging to keep engaged in our brief evening ritual. Due to age and personality, she isn’t that fond of sitting quietly and listening at the table. The first night she was okay, playing with the plastic nativity figures I’d just gotten out. The next night, she keep repeating in a loud voice some unintelligible noise that’s sole purpose seemed to be to divert and distract. I decided to be swift and ruthless in my response. I quickly swept her up and took her upstairs for a “together time-out.” In a stern voice I explained that she is allowed (and encouraged, for Pete’s sake) to talk and sing and be merry in our family. But during our Advent readings, she is to be quiet.
I felt a little conflicted doing this, because I want all the children to have warm, fond memories of observing Advent. At the same time, I want to put a little “holy fear” in my children, that this is serious business. Advent is a sober time, as we look at the dark room and remember the darkness in our own hearts and our need for redemption. I love the sense of longing and anticipation that is created by that simple act of lighting a single candle. We like to turn off all the lights in the room and notice how dark it really is. With even one candle lit, that darkness is displaced and we can see – a little. Each week builds on that sensuous experience of darkness being gradually overcome by more and more light. I like doing the readings and singing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” and “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel.” But the candle-lighting tradition alone would speak to my soul.
After we re-joined the family, Bridget was wide-eyed and serious, and has behaved herself very well indeed for the last two nights. We’ll see if it sticks. She didn’t seem traumatized by my sterness. Another case of underestimating children, I guess. For now, I’m glad.