I refuse to add to the growing litany of bloggers who want to end the atrocities of our over-driven consumerist culture. While I mostly agree with their criticisms, I don’t think it works to curse the darkness without lighting a candle. And the candle of prayer that I wish to light on this commencement of Holy Advent is a plug for a very potent service of prayer.
Nine Lessons and Carols is a service begun almost a century ago at King’s College in Cambridge, England. It is a reflection on the coming Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ through a beautiful blending of Scriptural prophecy and fulfillment and many traditional Christmas Carols that the faithful already know and love. Though it started in England, it has made a great showing here also in the states over the past several decades; an excellent article covers it here. I cannot remember the first time I attended this service, but it has now become an Advent tradition for our family in Boston.
Because of the busyness of the month of December with all the holiday festivities, frantic shopping, and end-of-the-year preparations, it becomes necessary for us to find multiple churches that are offering the service. That way, if too many things come up at the last minute, we have multiple chances to make it to church. It is usually offered the first several weeks of December, mostly by Episcopal churches where it originated, but sometimes by others. Here is the most comprehensive place online that I found many listings throughout New England. But for those who are more local to Boston, I would like to share our own family’s short list of service times and locations:
Sunday, November 30: Lessons & Carols, Church of the Advent, 5:00pm
Tuesday, December 4, Lessons & Carols, Episcopal Divinity School, 5:30pm
Sunday, December 7, Lessons & Carols, St. Stephen’s, Providence, RI, 5:30pm
Friday, December 12, Lessons & Carols, Marsh Chapel, Boston University, 6:00pm
Saturday, December 13, Candlelight Carols, Trinity Church, Copley, 3:30pm, 6:30pm
Sunday, December 14, Lessons & Carols, St. Mary Orthodox Church, 5:00pm, with Bishop John of Worcester
Wednesday, December 17, Lessons & Carols, Church of the Advent, 6:00pm
So there you have at least seven opportunities to shop less and pray more, and for those who still want more reasons to despise the former and increase the latter, I offer the words of the Great C.S. Lewis on Christmas shopping:
I mean [to criticize] the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.
1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out —physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.
2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?
3. Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself —gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?
4. The nuisance. for after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it. We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers?If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write if off as a charity. For nothing?Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.
‘What Christmas Means To Me‘ (God in the dock—Essays on Theology and Ethics)