Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Urgency of Advent

Today, I offer our dear readers some used goods (slightly edited from the original). But I hope the message still resonates. This column was originally published during Advent 2012, in The Record, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Perth, Australia. Once upon a time, I was their "Mom Columnist." The paper is no longer in print (alas, a victim of the digital age) but they still publish online. 

“URGENT!” I texted my sixteen year old daughter, “What key is "O Tannenbaum" in?” The reason for the urgency: I was at a church twenty miles away with my youngest children (10 and 8), the younger of whom was about to perform her first-ever vocal solo in public. My teen would know the answer because she had spent weeks accompanying her little sister on the piano at home.

This was my theory, anyway.

But for this anecdote to make complete sense, we need to backtrack a few hours. We had just finished lunch at home, and were about to leave for the event at which my daughters were scheduled to sing.

Me: “Do you girls need to bring any of your music with you?”
Girls: “Naww.”

Fast-forward. I am approached by the girls’ vocal teacher. “Does Sophia have her music with her?”
Me (sheepishly): “No.”  Then like any self-respecting mother, I quickly blamed my children for this state of events.
“It’s OK,” the teacher replied, “I have the song in another music book, but I need to know what key we rehearsed it in.” She was accompanying my tot on a digital piano, and could transpose with the press of a button. (Sometimes, technology is not evil, I will admit.)

I texted the question to my teen and breathlessly awaited a reply. Sophia was due to perform at any moment. The response came back: “A Major.” Unfortunately, the reply came about ten minutes after my eight-year old had finished her song. (Incidentally, I’m not sure how that works. When teens are texting their buddies, they seem to be able to manage about ten messages to the minute. When Mom is on the line, somehow ‘urgent’ seems to take on a slightly different meaning.)

Sophia sang like a little trooper, even though her teacher quickly discovered—to her dismay, but too late to adjust it—that the piano had been mistakenly set (by someone else) several keys below the range in which Sophia is used to singing. (For the non-musical out there, yes, it really does make a difference.) The happy conclusion is that the performance went well regardless; no one noticed anything was amiss.

There is, of course, a lesson to be gleaned.

It’s Advent: do you understand the urgency?  I have surely felt urgency, but probably not the kind the Lord intends (and I don’t wait for Advent; I start fretting in mid-October). Advent ought to be a time of waiting, reflection, preparation, anticipation, excitement, joy. Waiting? Oh dear, yes: in long, long line-ups at the till, or for that gift order to arrive from Amazon. Reflection? Only a blurry one as I dash past the big department store windows (gosh, it’s time for a new winter coat; this old one makes me look fat and frumpy). Preparation? Oh yes: baking, cooking, cleaning, driving, shopping, wrapping, hiding stuff. Anticipation? As in, I can’t wait for this to be over, so life can resume a slightly less frenetic pace? Excitement? Does feeling like you’re going to die of stress count? Joy? Not on the radar—call me in January, when this is all over.

When one is forced to stop and think awhile, it’s amazing what God can do. Thank heaven for Mass, good priests and homilies, and even, occasionally, editors.

My prayer for you this Advent is that you do not fall into the trap that I so often do. I neglect things like quiet prayer time, because I think I’m too busy. I forget that this season is a time to contemplate Christ’s Second Coming (and my own demise, which will likely happen much sooner). Am I ready? Have I seen to my eternal spiritual welfare? (Is sacramental confession near the top of my long Advent ‘To Do’ list?)

Do I get the urgency? 

Advent is not all Armageddon and Judgement Day, by the way: just re-read St. Luke’s Gospel (Chapter 21) from the First Sunday of Advent: “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!” If that doesn’t fill you with joyful hope, I don’t know what does.

We need to be a bit more like Sophia: relax, go with the flow. Stop creating your own false urgency (it’s often pointless: your Christmas guests want to visit you, not your gluten-free gingerbread cathedral).

Sing in the key you’re given, because it may just be where God wants you, even if you didn’t quite plan it that way.

Out of the mouths of babes. Even when they’re singing "O Tannenbaum," in the wrong key.

Copyright 2012, The Record and Mariette Ulrich
Kindly contact me at for reprint/quotation permission

Those interested in reading some of my other work for The Record may visit here. 

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