Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!
This old nursery rhyme was chanted by my grandmother more than once in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Now that we’re in the month of December it’s probably safe to mention the C word. We’ve been making the complaint for a few years now that the Christmas season is starting earlier and earlier every year. They call it the Christmas Creep. I don’t have much of a problem with that, especially this year. Insofar as there is a problem, it’s that we miss the beauty of the season of Advent that we entered into last weekend.
There’s a Gerry Herman musical entitled Mame, in which a freewheeling socialite is unexpectedly entrusted with the care of her orphaned nephew. Mame’s philosophy is; “Life is a banquet and most people are starving to death.” Mame loses all her money in the Wall Street crash of 1929 and in a bid to cheer everyone up, they put up the Christmas tree and decorations at the end of November while singing; “We need a little Christmas Now.” It’s a sentiment and activity that has been happening a lot this year. There is a real sense that, given the year we’ve had we deserve a little Christmas now.
My issue is not that Christmas starts too early but rather that it ends too early. We’ve expended so much energy in the build-up that we are barely able to last a few days when it does arrive. In less than four weeks we’ll be asking each other; “How did you get over the Christmas?”, as if it were an obstacle to be surmounted, rather than an event to be celebrated. As an antidote to this can I respectfully suggest that we try to reclaim the sense of Advent – a period of waiting hopefully. After all is it not better to travel hopefully than to arrive? Advent is, after all, the season of Hope!
A few years ago a United States submarine sank off the coast of New England. The rescue operation led to the discovery of the disabled vessel in the bottom of the ocean. When the divers approached the submarine, they heard a tapping sound from the inside. When they stopped to listen, they heard this message tapped in Morse code: “Is there hope?”
That is the question still tapped from within the depths of the human heart. In the hour of tragedy and of impending death it is most poignant, but hope is never a luxury that we can get along without. It is an absolute necessity if we are to have a zest for life. Hope is faith in the future, faith that gives courage and strength to face the present. Young people usually are full of hope. The future lies ahead of them and they set their sights on it.
The experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has challenged the experience of hope. Despite the news of vaccines and easing of restrictions there are many who need to have their hope bolstered. “Hell,” says A. J. Cronin, “is the place where one has ceased to hope.” He is echoing the words which Dante saw inscribed over the portals of Inferno: “Abandon all hope you that enter here”. Science itself, is built on hope. Man can’t help hoping. It’s an integral part of our human nature.
The good news of Advent gives the answer to our question. Yes, there is hope. The men in the sunken submarine were utterly unable to cope with their tragic situation. Their only hope was rescue coming from the outside. That, says the message of Advent, is precisely the situation of all humanity. Trapped by the powers of evil and death, we are helpless and doomed. But there is hope, for rescue has come from the outside. The Saviour is on his way.
In an art gallery in London hangs a painting by George Frederic Watts, titled “Hope.” It presents a beautiful maiden seated upon a globe. She is blindfolded and in her hand she holds a harp, of which all the strings but one are broken. The blindfolded girl is touching the one string with her hand, and her head is bent toward it, earnestly waiting to catch the note of that one string. All the strings on which we play the melody of life are indeed destined to break – health, peace, security, finally life itself. There remains only one string – Jesus Christ our hope, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.
For the year that’s in it it’s difficult to argue with Auntie Mame when she sings:
For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder, grown a little older
And I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder
Need a little Christmas now
For we need a little music, need a little laughter,
Need a little singing ringing through the rafter
And we need a little snappy, happy ever after
We need a little Christmas now!
Fr. Brendan Quinlivan, based in Tulla is Vicar Forane for the Ceantar na Lochanna Group of Parishes in East Clare