Thursday, November 22, 2007

Preparing for Advent

Before entering parish ministry all of my professional life was spent in the retail sector. From the time that I was sixteen I worked in a store. One thing was always consistent in the retail world: The Christmas season began November 1st. In those early days of November, we pulled out our Christmas decorations, began to display Christmas merchandise, and on went the Christmas Carols and music. Even as retailer in the ecclesiastical market – I was retail sales manager of Toronto’s Anglican Book Centre for ten years – this was the case. From time-to-time, we tried to push things a little later into eleventh month, but the reality of retail is simply that a retailer needs to get a good start on the season if the books are going to turn from red to black in that last quarter of the year. As a retail manager, I found Christmas came even earlier. In the month of May, I would receive a sales visit from one of my favourite sales reps, a gentleman named Stephen Wright, who would lay out stack after stack of Christmas card samples. They were of all sorts and varieties, and I would go through each card quickly, but carefully, looking for those with a religious theme. This would generally take an entire morning – usually, a lovely May morning when the natural world was coming to life once again, and summer hinted gently from around the corner. And there I was choosing Christmas Cards.

I never seemed to mind this annual May ritual, nor did I mind the ritual of beginning the Christmas sales season in early November. You see, I have always loved planning for Christmas. It wasn’t just the Eaton’s Christmas “wish book” arriving each Fall (which my brother and I would scour for hours, deciding which action figures we wanted), nor was it the early longing for that two-week holiday. The home in which I grew up was not a particularly religious one. Yet, as the days of November crept ever closer, as a child I would eye up the Perry Como Christmas album and in due course, place the vinyl record on the player and hear about the “tidings of comfort and joy.” I was unaware of anything called “Advent”, and yet I think this childhood ritual was, in a way, an observance of an advent-time.

And so, as an adult, a retailer, a bookseller, the early onset of Christmas never bothered me, much to the chagrin of the ecclesiastics around me. Nor does it today, even as a cleric. This morning, amidst the first fall of snow, I heard the first Christmas advertisement on the radio – a pitch for a Christmas album by a noted boys’ choir. My heart lifted to the strains of “Once in Royal David’s City,” and within me I felt the age-old prayer begin to swell, “Come Lord, Jesus, Come.”

Copyright 2007, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed either in whole or part without the express written consent of the author.

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