Celebrating Advent with Mary, Joseph, and Faithful
As a child, I loved when Christmas was coming. Can we reconnect with that joy as busy, stressed adults? Advent may help. This is also the story of my road back to church, aided by one or two dead women.
We never celebrated Advent when I was a child, although I looked longingly at the cute Advent calendars with windows that hid a treat for each day.
Do we need yet another task to add to a busy seasonal schedule? In the same way that regular meditation or prayer can help us to connect, slow down, and focus on what’s important, Advent can strip down the busyness of the season, and bring joy. For four weeks before Christmas, we can enter into a spirit of expectation, remembering the days when a special Child was coming.
This year, for the first time, I hosted Mary and Joseph and their donkey for one day of Advent. Patterned after the Mexican Los Posadas tradition, a local church reenacts the group’s travel to Bethlehem with whimsical knitted replicas.
It was lovely to meet the families who hosted before and after me. I enjoyed The Best Shortbread Ever at one home, and cuddling a curly-haired white dog named Skipper. In another, I met a woman bravely coping with serious illness in her family.
I enjoyed adding a personal touch as an animal lover. The donkey was no longer able to support Mary’s weight. She’d been loosely stitched onto the donkey’s back, and I decided to free the two. I recreated the scene with Mary placing her arm around the donkey, now named “Faithful” in a new travel diary. Joseph had his arms around Mary in the group hug. A small ceramic cat lay blissfully at their feet. In other photos, I introduced my own orange and white tabby.
My friend Ozana helped recover a missing dog while following a similar tradition in her Catholic church. A statue of Mary makes the rounds of different homes, where they pray the Rosary. When Ozana prayed to Mary for the return of her son’s dog, missing for three days, her son called ten minutes later. The dog was back! “Do you believe now?” she’d asked.
Maybe not. Some of us have times away from faith, and come back. Some live out our faith in community, while others go solo. It’s great to be in a loving faith community, but the right one can be hard to find.
I went back to church this fall after attending a memorial service of an old friend, Joan Maguire. It felt like home. I loved the uplifting songs, the inclusive language, the lack of thorny issues that can arise in more conservative traditions.
Church was important to Joan. I recalled how her friendliness was what kept me coming back, in my early days there. Now, I felt like she was encouraging me to return.
When dead people talk to you, it’s best to listen! I went back the next morning. It wasn’t easy. Mornings are not my best time! But that morning was different. It seemed like God at work.
A lot had changed in the few years I’d been away. Three congregations merged, and with strained resources, made decisions to align their work more closely to what they felt God was calling them to do. I loved every change. Before, the church was so liberal, it seemed like the closest thing to no faith at all. While it’s still liberal and respecting of other faiths, it seems to me that faith is central. Maybe I’m wrong and God was always there working miracles -- Joan would attest to that -- but it seems more real.
“Café church” is a fun new initiative that reflects a growing trend. Tables loaded with snacks and beverages were a pleasant surprise when I arrived. The minister invited us to get up at any time and help ourselves, saying that it would show our appreciation for those who had set out the snacks for us. When I got up and walked around her to the muffins, others did as well. Most of the time, café church happens at “ThirdSpace,” a small uptown space that also hosts mindfulness training and other get-togethers.
It wasn’t long before I joined the choir, about forty singers supported by an excellent director and pianist. I recalled my father sharing that his mother, Anna Plett (née Graewe), loved singing songs of faith while playing her guitar. He’d fall asleep at night to the sound of her singing with her sisters, a beautiful memory that sustained him in the worst of times. When I sang, I was connecting with this grandmother whom I never met, who died before I was born. It’s quite cheering to sing songs of faith.
A moving Remembrance Day service was my initiation to choir. My father, Peter Plett, was one of several veterans honoured that day. A young Scout escorted him to the front, where my Dad laid a wreath at the altar. It caught me by surprise to see that happening while we sang Eleanor Daley’s, “For the Fallen.” I had to tamp down my emotion to get through the song! My father much appreciated being honoured as a veteran, his first time ever. Mennonites don’t usually mark Remembrance Day.
A final note on Advent. I’ve discovered an everyday symbol for it: a flashing yellow light. There are amber lights at intersections, but there’s also a warning light well ahead of some intersections alerting drivers when the light is about to change. When I saw that light flashing recently, it reminded me of Advent, where we’re asked to stop and remember. Now every time I see one, instead of perhaps feeling irritated, I feel grateful to stop and remember Advent. It’s good to pause sometimes and stop mindlessly moving to the next destination. Stop, reflect, and sometimes change course. Know that Joy is coming.
May you find peace, joy, and love this Advent season.
- Irene Plett
Topics: Advent, Christmas, Remembrance Day, Mary, Joseph, Los Posadas, Joan Maguire, Peter Plett, Scouts Canada, Ozana Seselja, Peninsula United Church, ThirdSpace, Café Church, choir, music, mindfulness, inspiration
Photo credit: Bruce McAndless-Davis