The next letter in the Advent alphabet blocks is D, which stands for divine, donkey, dream and decorations.
Divine comes into our lexicon through the divinity of Jesus. Caesar Augustus, the Roman ruler at the time of Jesus, claimed divinity and a virgin birth which was one mark of divinity as well. Caesar wasn’t shy about proclaiming his divinity and requiring things like sacrifices to him as well as public acknowledgement of his god-like state. Jesus, on the other hand, did divinity a bit differently. Although he pointed constantly to God as his father, did the people who followed him really think about virgin birth or direct descent from God? Probably not, but yet they probably got the idea that he was divine in some way simply because of his holy living and wise teaching. For a number of centuries after his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, the church pondered, argued and struggled with the concept of who Jesus really was – all divine, all human, both, or neither.
Dream is for the birth narrative we find in Matthew that Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant and it wasn’t his even though they were betrothed. Joseph doesn’t get a lot of ink in the gospels but in this story he takes center stage. He, like Mary, was visited by an angel only while Mary was wide-awake, Joseph was asleep and dreaming. Why? Why didn’t the angel just go to him the same as with Mary? Maybe because Joseph might be more open to the announcement and the circumstances while asleep. His ears (and mind) might have been more open to a dream than to a more confrontational appearance and message. Sometimes dreams tell people things they didn’t know, even if the dreams are about something quite mundane and seemingly totally unrelated to the insight. Perhaps in the world of the free-ranging mind in the sleeping body, it is easier to accept that seeing something differently is okay, not something to be fought against or rejected out of hand because it seems far-fetched. At any rate, Joseph paid attention and the story of Mary and Joseph’s joint parenthood of a rather different child began.
It’s easy to put donkey in the lexicon, especially when we think of the journey Mary and Joseph took from Galilee to Bethlehem. Mary was at least eight, probably nine months pregnant and in no condition to take a very long walk through some rugged terrain and one infested with brigands and wild animals to boot. It would have made total sense for Mary to ride a donkey on her trip, even though riding might not be the most comfortable way to go. They weren’t rich and only royalty or the military usually rode horses. Perhaps Joseph’s donkey pulled a small cart containing things they would need on the trip like extra food, or maybe a small tent and bedding to use on the road. Maybe Mary rode in the small cart, bumping and rocking as it went over rocks and through holes in the dirt. Still, there’s usually at least one donkey in the manger scene. Perhaps its presence was its reward for patient plodding and perhaps a bit of hauling or carrying.
Decorations for Advent are usually fairly simple—a wreath with candles, evergreens, perhaps a calendar. Stores have been putting out (and putting up) Christmas merchandise since before Halloween and many folks do the bulk of their Christmas decorating on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Very seldom do you hear Advent music on the radio although the closer it gets to Christmas the more Christmas-type music they play. Come Christmas Day, though, the paper hasn’t even been cleared off the living room floors before stores have relegated Christmas stuff to the sale aisle and Valentine’s day gifts (like silk underwear with pink or red hearts, heart-shaped boxes of candy and bottles of perfume) have replaced them. The Christmas angels have been replaced by chubby little cherubs with blonde curls and small bows and arrows. For two weeks, Advent-celebrating churches sing their Christmas carols all alone and hold their Epiphany pageants featuring the Magi, which the other churches don’t recognize either.
Still, Advent, for those celebrating it, is a meaningful time of year. It’s nice to have a church Quiet Day of retreat to think about the season and what it is about. No rushing about to buy last-minute gifts or preparing for the perfect party, just quiet contemplation and thoughtfulness. It’s a great antidote for the hustle-bustle of the world outside this time of year.
Consider the divine, hold back on excessive decorating and partying, and remember the patience of the little donkey. Enjoy Advent while it is here. Christmas will be along in due time.