The Wonder of Advent

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Pamela Stewart is a lyricist and librettist with over 200 published works. In 2000, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure commissioned her to write a song cycle for chorus and symphony. Twice performed at Carnegie Hall, Sing for the Cure made its European premiere at Royal Festival Hall in London in 2010 and was recorded with Dr. Maya Angelou as narrator. In 2013, her song cycle for piano, solo violin, and men’s chorus entitled Tyler’s Suite debuted, benefitting the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Collaborating composers were John Bucchino, Craig Carnelia, John Corigliano, Nolan Gasser, Ann Hampton Callaway, Jake Heggie, Lance Horne, and Stephen Schwartz. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the grant for the Suite’s recording. Her choral pieces have received both Editor’s Choice and Merit Series awards from top choral music distributors, and have been honored by Creator Magazine’s “Select 20.” Ms. Stewart lives in Austin, Texas.

Waiting is one of the most difficult things we do. Yes, it is something we can actually “do” as opposed to the type of waiting where we simply sit back and do nothing. Advent involves our waiting with our whole being: actively watching and listening with anticipation and expectation.

When our children were small, we set up a crèche in our home. They often used the small figurines in the scene to act out the Christmas story. Sometimes they scripted additional scenes! One year, we found the infant Jesus missing from the scene. Aubrey informed us that he had been kidnapped by the wise men – she thought they had “mean faces.” When he was later returned to the manger and we asked about it, she matter-of-factly stated, “Oh, he was saved by the Holy Goat.”

The tradition of the living crèche dates back to 13th century Italy and later evolved into the use of sculpted Nativity scenes. During the French Revolution when the display of crèches in the church was prohibited, the people developed the practice of setting them up in their homes. As part of the tradition, they added “santons” or “little saints” to the classical figures. These “santons” represented the people of everyday life: milkmaids, weavers, fishermen, farmers, flower sellers, bakers, etc. In this way, they placed themselves into the Nativity scene as witnesses to the birth of Christ.

While many churches today incorporate a crèche into their sanctuary at Christmas, they could also be used during Advent. At the beginning of the season, you could set up a crèche with nothing but animals in and around the stable. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, invite the congregation to place small figures representing themselves in the area surrounding the crèche. These figures can be brought by the individual members or you might collect donated figures from which members can select ones to represent them. You could even make this into a larger activity, by making time and materials available for members to create their own figures (maybe just a popsicle stick figure with a small photo of each person’s face attached as a head, perhaps dressed as they would). Once the figures are placed, children (and adults, too) can literally see themselves waiting for the rest of the scene to unfold.

In subsequent weeks, arrange the shepherds in the fields, add Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem. On Christmas Eve, let the angels appear. And of course, at last the place the infant Jesus in the manger.

Because Christ came to all us, not just those who were physically present at his birth, we are all connected to the manger. And as we actively await his return, during this season of Advent we yearn for music to break the silence in our night and for the peace of Christ to reach our world.

Pamela Stewart

“Morning Star”  incorporating the use of a crèche and ‘santons.’)

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