By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Practice for the children’s Christmas pageant began the first Sunday of Advent in my parish and the view from the pew awakened a sense of anticipation in me. From the smallest preschoolers wiggling on steps at the foot of the altar to the confident narrator, I felt their excitement in the retelling of a story that stirs my soul.
I attended the practice as the fifth-grade substitute teacher for deacon candidate Brian Dugan who was out of town with his wife Karen to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Our students — seven girls, including a set of twins — played roles as angels, shepherds and the star of Bethlehem.
After practice, students and teachers returned to their classrooms for the remaining 25 minutes of class. The fifth-graders, perhaps still charged up from play practice and Thanksgiving weekend, requested free time instead of a lesson. However, Brian wanted me to “delve into Advent with them” and to provide tips for preparing for something more, someone other than Santa Claus.
Attempting to bridge the competing interests, I asked the girls to share their personal stories of anticipation in hopes that they would make the connection to anticipating the coming of Christ. One girl shared how she anticipates her 3-year-old sister growing up, presumably so they can enjoy each other’s company on an equal level. Other girls recalled fun times spent with family and friends and anticipating traditions such as making gingerbread cookies.
All of them understand that Advent is the time to prepare for the coming of Christ but secular traditions compete with the religious ones and that creates some confusion.
“What about elves?” one of the girls asked. I explained that elves belong to the secular celebration and not the religious one. However, I realized after class that the fifth-graders might not be familiar with the term “secular.”
After class, I found a message in my email from Brian. Just that morning he listened to an Advent reflection from Tim Gray, president of the Augustine Institute, on three practical ways to enhance the Advent experience. Gray encouraged listeners of Formed (a VOD, or video on demand) to grow closer to God and to be prepared for the joy of Christmas like never before:
• Decorate the house to remember this special season of preparation. Get the Advent wreaths out, and Nativity scenes.
• Add a simple, daily resolution to help grow spiritually closer to God and to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Pray the rosary or read daily Scripture or attend daily Mass, for example.
• Offer something up, as a gift to God, with the goal of creating space for Jesus in our hearts.
Brian will have an opportunity to delve into Advent with the fifth-graders next weekend, after pageant practice. In addition to Gray’s suggestions, the students will benefit from ideas in their workbook, “Alive in Christ.” The workbook talks about Advent as a time to ask for forgiveness of our sins and to reach out to those in need, as Jesus did. When we reach out to others through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we prepare our hearts for Christ.
Santa’s elves don’t have a role in the Christmas pageant or in our religious celebration of the birth of Christ. We can be like elves, though, preparing ourselves and others to receive the gift of Christ.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com.)