Just Believe!

Believe1Today was the fourth Sunday of Advent!  Christmas is imminent now.  It is time for the culmination of all that preparation, longing, anxiety, and hope.  Having spent the entire year counting down and preparing for Christmas, this final Sunday of advent found me still readying myself for the arrival of the blessed day.  The readings at mass this morning were full of promise and hope.  Promise of the arrival of the messiah and the hope that he would come.  From the earliest days much of the promise and reality of Christmas centered on the importance of believing.  For thousands of years the Israelites had to believe that God’s promise to send a messiah would be realized.  Believe.  For each of us to believe is such an important part of all that is Christmas, no matter your perspective on the big day.

Believe2The gospel reading today was from Luke and concluded with a quote from Elizabeth, Mary’s sister.  Elizabeth says to her sister that “blessed are you who believed”.  She is talking about the unborn child Mary was carrying and how the belief that he was the son of God was great!  To believe in the birth of Christ is THE reason for the holiday.  Faith in his arrival and how it changed the world are what we celebrate.  We must focus our faith and truly believe in all that the “greatest story ever told” teaches us about ourselves.  But the idea of believing at Christmas goes far beyond that spiritual belief to many other aspects of Christmas celebration.

believe3Many years ago a little girl named Virginia was reassured that “Yes, there is a Santa Claus”.  Virginia was directed that as long as there was belief in all that Santa represented then he would be there.  Santa is often the focus of believing at this time of year.  You can easily hear the phrase “Do you believe in Santa?” almost anywhere.  Children ask one another, their parents, and even the parents sometimes question their belief in St. Nick.  In 2004 the movie The Polar Express introduced the song Believe.  The song was written by Alan Silvestri and performed by Josh Groban.  The song received a Grammy Award, an Academy Award nomination, and Golden Globe nominations.  Listen carefully to the lyrics.  Two lines jump out:  “You have everything you need, if you just believe” and “We find ourselves again on Christmas Day”.  The song is uplifting and a great modern-day addition to the timeless classics.

BelieveBelieving is a center plot point of another great Christmas movie, Elf.  In the film, Santa needs more people to believe.  The greater the number of people truly believing the more power to the sleigh.  Times have become cynical and Santa needs some boost.  WIll Ferrell is just the one to encourage more believing.  Believe has even become a marketing campaign.  There are thousands of different craft, card, and other Christmas bauble that simply says “Believe”.  Beginning in 2008, Macy’s stores started their annual Believe campaign.  The campaign, inspired by the story of that young girl Virginia, places letter boxes in all Macy’s stores.  Children are encouraged to drop in their letters to mail to Santa.  The store donates $1 for every letter collected.  All that money is then donated to the Make-a-Wish foundation.  They have donated over $5 million since the start of the campaign.

believe4As we get down to the last 24 hours before the arrival of Santa and Christmas Day, take a few moments and ask yourself the question “Do I Believe?”.  Take time to think of all that the question means, and really take Christmas and all its meanings to heart.  I Believe, and hope you all do too!

Advent Wreaths

Natalie and I have been discussing, and I do believe wishing for the arrival of, Advent.  We’ve been talking a good bit about the coming of the period focused on preparation for the arrival of the baby Jesus.  The term Advent comes from the latin, meaning “coming”.  Something good is coming!  Advent is the liturgical equivalent to the sales at the malls.   Everything at church is exciting in the Advent season.  All the songs and readings are about the coming joy.  I really love this time at mass.  One of the big components of the Advent experience is the lighting of the advent wreath.  The wreath is a great part of our sacred celebrations of the holidays.  I think it’s great that the advent wreath is part of the services at churches AND can be part of your family celebrations at home.  But when did we all start lighting up these candles on a wreath to prep for Christmas?

The wreath may trace its origins back to pre-Christian Europe.  The circular wreath of evergreens was most likely a symbol of the cycles of the seasons.  The wreath might have crept into church practice as Christianity spread through the pagan practices in Europe.  The modern origins go back to the 1830s in Germany.  A Lutheran pastor created a wreath with 23 candles used to mark the time to Christmas.  There were red candles for the weekdays and white for the Sundays.  The wreath idea caught on across the continent and soon the wreaths had been modified to include 4 candles for the Sundays of advent and an optional 5th candle for Christmas.  By the 1920s the German Roman Catholics started to use the wreaths.  The practices spread to North America in the 1930s and today almost all of Western Christianity uses some type of Advent Wreath.

Today’s wreaths are a horizontal wreath of evergreens.  This might include laurel, pine, holly, cedar, and/or yew.  The evergreens serve as a sign of continual life.  The candles might vary in color based on religious or personal practice.  Most Protestant churches use 4 red candles and 1 white.  Roman Catholics use 3 violet candles and 1 rose candle.  The rose candle is for the 3rd Sunday in Advent (Halfway!!).  The third Sunday is known as Gaudete, or Rejoice, Sunday.  I am counting the days until I get to light my first candle (50 days to go).

Countdown Podcast #10- 300 Days to Go!

Leapin’ Lent– Click to hear this week’s podcast.

This week we start with the highlights of our Presidential posts.  We recap Secret #10 for a Happy Christmas 2012 and share some of our own thoughts of the simple side of a fantastic Christmas.  Discussion on the Liturgical calendar narrows in on the similarities and connections between Lent and Advent.  Do you know the difference between your Gregorian and the Julian calendar?  Believe it or not Leap Day has a huge role in the establishment of our current calendar, and can throw quite a wrench a the liturgical calendar if not careful.  We close with a little extra candy tip that Natalie didn’t know- and I figured everyone knew about it!