|Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco|
That thought is on my mind as I say Hello! to all the friends I see here at Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas (blog) Party, a party for which we can show up four times over the next month! I had barely noticed the open invitation, with no time even to lay a finger aside of my nose, when she added me to the published guest list -- I was signed up! I am happy to attend, Lord willing, by posting a blog each Wednesday.
It seems to me that the way we Eastern Orthodox Christians get into the Christmas spirit can be combined with the theme of children and simple pleasures that Pom Pom describes:
"Yesterday I asked my students, 'Why the big greed festival over the holidays? Aren't we fine right now? Don't we have enough?' ...Here at Pom Pom's Ponderings, we are going to think about the simple pleasures of the holidays, the childlike wonder that doesn't involve the ka-ching ka-ching of the cash register....four holiday Wednesdays of posts that attend to the simple childlike thrills of Christmas. ....that babe in a manger and the children He loves and cherishes."
The modern world likes to jump into Christmas immediately after Halloween or Thanksgiving, but the more traditional way to celebrate involves some Anticipation and Preparation. Children might think of it as Waiting and Getting Ready. Some of us have been in Advent, which we call the Nativity Fast, since November 15th.
I'm not experienced in helping children to forgo the treats that are pressed upon them in every shop and neighbor's house at this time of year, but even before I found the Church and its traditions I tried to keep the family thinking ahead to a special Holy Day, and not just because of the presents.
We need some weeks to sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!" and for it to register in our minds that God's people had to wait many generations and thousands of years for the coming of the Savior. A little bit of suffering in the form of doing without the usual quantity of food, or rich foods, (in the Orthodox Church we eat less, and almost vegan, when fasting) can make it more real for us that the world before Christ was suffering under the curse of sin. We feel our own weakness, too, when eating less, and that can soften our hearts.
Why the photo of Holy Trinity Cathedral above? My church and sister churches sponsor Advent retreats every year, usually a day or half a day when we can hear a lecture and attend services together to help us focus on the coming feast in a fruitful way. Last year I went to one at Holy Trinity and took the picture. (By the way, I saw the same flowering plant at a winery last week and still don't know what it is.)
One children's book that might contribute to a child's understanding of time and the processes that are necessary preliminaries to accomplishing a goal, in particular a few points on the timeline of our salvation history, is The Tale of Three Trees, "a traditional folktale retold by Angela Elwell Hunt with illustrations by Tim Jonke."
Three small trees stand on a hilltop and dream about what they might do when they are grown. One wants to be a treasure chest, one a sailing ship that carries kings, and one just wants to stay where it is and point to God.
It takes many years for them to get big enough to be cut for lumber and fashioned into items that play a part in the earthly life of our Lord. The first tree is made into a manger -- and this first creation of wood that the Christ Child came in contact with establishes the story as one for Christmas.
All the trees feel initial disappointment and humiliation, none more so than the one that is made into a rude cross and used for violent purposes: "She felt ugly and harsh and cruel." But in the end all of the trees realize the blessedness of being used for the glory of God, and the young reader is reminded of the reason a Baby was born at Bethlehem.
Even our Lord Jesus went through a period of preparation, growing up as a man for 30 years before He began His ministry, but He surely wasn't idle during that time. As we wait for Christmas we can prepare our hearts by prayer and fasting and acts of love.
Those of us with families are blessed to have many possibilities under what might be the Acts of Love category. (They might even include some noise of cash registers, but I won't say any more about that at this party.) I know I have cookie-baking, doll-clothes-sewing, decorating and menu-planning and making up beds on my list.
The truth is, I'm not very good at being child-like before Christmas. I feel so many responsibilities that children don't have to concern themselves with, and I get pretty busy with all the fun type of preparations.
Somehow, though, all of that, when combined with participation in the church traditions and services, adds up to make me feel some of the longing and the weakness that are appropriate right now.
I'll post on Wednesdays more about some of the simple pleasures that our family has enjoyed over the years, even while remembering that the fullness of joy, the acting like a child, will start on December 25th. And won't it be wonderful!