It’s coming up on 10:30 pm on Christmas Eve as I sit down to write this post — I am just back from our church’s 8 pm service, and making our Christmas ready for the morning. There’s cider and cloved clementines in the crock pot, the stockings are stuffed and under the tree, the children are nestled all snug in their beds… probably not with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads — I’m not precisely sure what a sugarplum is, come to think of it — but asleep, anyway, which is the main thing! And I am listening to a broadcast of the wonderful St. Olaf Christmas Festival (which you can download for free from their page).
I’ve been meaning to write an Advent post since Advent started, which perhaps gives you a sense of what it’s been like for our family this year: joyous, but full. But I do want to highlight two books that have shaped Advent for me this year.
The first is Susan H. Swetnam’s book Season of Little Sacraments: Christmas Commotion, Advent Grace. I read it toward the beginning of December and it was a lovely little invitation into the season. Swetnam takes the reader through a series of short vignettes from her own life, looking at her personal Advent traditions as well as the graces she has found therein. It’s a sweet book, and a quick read. One theme that it highlighted for me was that of patience; I’ve been thinking a lot about the patience of Mary, waiting out those nine long months between the Annunciation and Christ’s Nativity. And I’ve been learning a practical lesson about patience — and perhaps one about hubris — after getting about 90% through my Christmas stocking before realizing that I’d done it all wrong and had to rip everything out and start over (this had me feeling more like Penelope un-weaving her tapestry every night than like gracious Mary!).
The other book I haven’t finished yet, not quite, but I’m going to talk about it anyway: Dorothy L. Sayers’s The Man Born to be King, which is a play cycle depicting the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth, in twelve radio plays which were originally broadcast on the BBC in monthly installments during WWII. I am a huge Sayers fan — I wrote my masters thesis on some of her theology — and these plays have only increased my admiration for her capabilities as both theologian and dramatist. The first play, “Kings in Judea,” covers the time period from the visit of the Magi to Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt, with a retrospective section for the shepherds’ story as well. It’s a beautiful play. C. S. Lewis read The Man Born to be King every year in Lent; I think I will be reading at least “Kings of Judea” every year in Advent. Here’s a little bit of dialogue from the Magi’s visit with Herod the Great:
HEROD: Twelve days. (musingly) In the House of the Lion — the Lion of Judah — the House of David. It may be so. Bethlehem is called the City of David — did you know that? And the Scriptures speak of Bethlehem. Priest and king. Have you calculated his horoscope? What sort of man will this be that is born to be King of the Jews?
MELCHIOR: Prouder than Caesar, more humble than his slave; his kingdom shall stretch from the sun’s setting to the sun’s rising, higher than the heavens, deeper than the grave, and narrow as the human heart.
CASPAR: He shall offer sacrifice in Jerusalem, and have his temples in Rome and in Byzantium, and he himself shall be both sacrifice and priest.
HEROD: You speak mysteries. Tell me this; will he be a warrior king?
BALTHAZAR: The greatest of warriors; yet he shall be called the Prince of Peace. He will be victor and victim in all his wars, and will make his triumph in defeat. And when wars are over, he will rule his people in love.
Amen and amen.
So this is the end of Advent. Tomorrow we will wake up into the fullness of Christmastide: stockings and presents, church and family, carols and feasts and all the rest of it — but above all, to the celebration of the one who came as King not just in Judea, as Herod feared, but in all the world and for all eternity.
A merry and blessed Christmas to you and yours!