This week I’m over at the Ancient-Future Faith Network with an Advent reflection. How does a medievalist mother experience the coming of Christ? What does a battered manger scene have to do with it? Here’s a peek:
I’m heartened to see more and more Christians keeping Advent— not rushing to the feast, but spending time in holy expectation. The historian in me approves. When we observe Advent, we deepen our preparation for Christ’s coming by embracing the liturgical rhythms of the ancient Church. Some historical Advent practices, such as fasting, most of us do not keep today. Others, like the annual Christmas pageant, are still going strong (in the medieval Church the pageant was performed by choirboys).
This year, as I watch my daughters perform one of their own practices, I’ve been drawn to some wonderful medieval teachings on Advent. Perhaps I should say Advents. In one of his sermons for the season, written in the mid-twelfth century, Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of not one but three comings of Christ. A century later, Thomas Aquinas adds yet another. That’s three more comings than most of us prepare for. It has taken my two children to help me absorb what these four advents might mean for me.
Christ’s first coming, no surprise here, is his historical advent. My daughters have developed an elaborate practice to prepare for this event. That practice? The manger scene. My girls set up their scene with the precision of an HGTV reality show. Everything must be just so. The picture on the box is consulted: Mary must stand here, Joseph there. The manger must be centered. Then and only then is the baby tenderly placed therein. But he’s not there long; Jesus requires much more attention than that. I sometimes think God sent his son as a baby for the benefit of maternally inclined four-year-olds.