“I never procrastinate, except for Christmas shopping,” I told the woman . . . as I bought my last gift the evening before I left at six am the next morning to see my folks at Thanksgiving and exchange gifts. “So I’m still procrastinating, just earlier.”
It’s no surprise, then, that I am a teensy bit late telling you about Sybil MacBeth’s wonderful new book The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Extremist. For those of you knew to the Advent concept, this liturgical season preceding Christmas began this past Sunday. But according to Sybil’s calculations, the season of Epiphany that follows Christmas rolls right on through Ground Hog’s Day so you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy her book. And enjoy it you will.
Many folks—like Sybil—did not grow up with the practice of Advent. I did, and it was boring. A stupid paper calendar where you opened a door to reveal—surprise! . . . the day of the month. I already knew what day it was. This practice was improved somewhat when people began making chocolate Advent calendars—a piece of chocolate was stuck behind the door—but still, what was the point?
Then I’m reading Sybil’s book and one of her suggestions made me smile.
“Create a progressive crèche,” she suggests. This suggestion echoes my family’s tradition of not putting Jesus in the manger until Christmas morning. (It’s hard sometimes to find a nativity set where Jesus isn’t glued into the manger, but it can be done). When my sister began to host Christmas, she expanded this concept to include, first thing on Christmas morning, everyone running through the house to scoop up all the baby Jesuses we could find and gathering them into one spot of celebration—Jesus always got a birthday cake, too, at her house.
Sybil’s idea is even more fun. First, you decide where you want to locate your nativity scene. Put the animals in that spot. Gussy it up with some fake hay or greenery. Place Mary and Joseph way across the room or even in another room—after all, they are traveling to Bethlehem.
Let them take the journey through Advent toward the manger with you. Move them a little closer each day. On Christmas Eve move them to the manger. Until Christmas Eve, hide the baby Jesus or find a way to attach him to Mary. (Season of the Nativity, page 80)
Now how cool is that? A physical movement toward Christmas, maybe including an actual pregnant Mary? I’ve already started Mary on her journey—she’s outside under a bare-limbed maple because Sybil isn’t the only extremist in our midst. I’ll also let additional animals converge, including all types of critters to symbolize the extravagant presence of God in everything.
Of course this idea of physical movement as a contemplation of the mystery of God would appeal to me—I wrote a book about making crosses from broken and found objects. (Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God (Paraclete 2009). Such is the genius of Sybil’s book: her abundance of suggestions on how to celebrate the time before, during, and after Christmas appeals to writers, drawers, gardeners, dancers, meditators, crafters, givers, teachers, singers, prayers, readers, talkers, candle-lighters, yogis, and yes, even Tweeters. When so many of us are searching for paths that we can use to truly connect to God, this book is a gift.
Along the way, you get to meet Sybil, if you don’t already know her: she is the author of the tremendously popular Praying in Color series. Sybil has a delightful voice, and it shines on the page. Her exploration of faith is an inspiration, and the soft-cover book is beautiful. Almost every page (did you read that? almost every page) of the book is illustrated with a great photo or line drawing; Christmas ornaments act as bullet points; and purple, the color of the Advent season, abounds.
If you can, imagine yourself seated in a big comfy chair with a steaming cup of tea by your side on a grey winter day, slowly turning the pages as you sip your tea, when that spark of recognition lights inside you: oh, you breathe, I know this. This is how God comes to me.
Thank you, Sybil, for giving us that gift.