Today, November 30, is the Feast Day of St. Andrew, brother of Simon Peter. The ornament above, entitled "Young Santa," pairs nicely with this day and what Scripture tells us about St. Andrew.
If we stretch the understanding of what we mean by "Young Santa" to be more literal, i.e., the young "holy one", since "santa" translates to "holy", instead of the merely young Santa Claus, we can imagine that this fellow is very similar to St. Andrew.
Scripture tells us three things about St. Andrew. Firstly, he was Simon Peter's brother, as is already noted above. Secondly, it was he who told Simon Peter that he had found the Messiah and encouraged his brother to come and meet Jesus. (John 1:41) Thirdly, it was Andrew who told Jesus about the boy with the "five barley loaves and two fish" (John 6:9)
Clearly, St. Andrew did not just sit around, nor did he keep to himself. He was out and about, listening to John the Baptist, so that he recognized Jesus. At the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, he had already gone into the crowd and found the young boy with his small amount of food. The reference to "barley" loaves shows us that the people gathered at the multiplication of the loaves and fishes were poor, as that type of bread was common to the poor of that time.
St. Andrew, like St. Nicholas after him, was a man of action. He got involved. He went and saw. He made inquiries and met people. In his case, it was this very "doing" that made him holy, made him 'santa.'
The young boy this ornament portrays is also a person of action. He knows there is work to be done, and he is not afraid to do it. His dog, well aware of the boy's tendency towards motion, is helping him get ready, assisting him in his preparations. May this ornament remind us to be like St. Andrew, not passive or anxious, not self-absorbed, but diligent, awake and ready to go.
In the Western world, the owl has long been considered a symbol for wisdom. This is likely a holdover from Greek mythology, since Athena, goddess of wisdom, was portrayed with an owl.
The subject of Wisdom features loud and large in Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament and there are seven books collectively referred to as Wisdom Literature (These books are usually Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Wisdom and Sirach.)
Proverbs 9:10 tells us that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." Fear of the Lord, meaning tremendous respect and reverence, leads us to want to see and interpret things in a way that is pleasing to God, as well as an understanding that gives a glimpse into the Really Real. This is a slightly different understanding of Wisdom than what the Greeks and Romans meant. In the Greek and later Roman tradition, Wisdom was concerned with reason, logic and scholarship. In the Jewish world, however, this is not the meaning of true Wisdom.
In the Jewish, Scriptural world, wisdom refers to the practical interpretation of the natural world, its objects and events, so that a deeper insight into the real nature of things is apprehended. It requires both intuition and reason, put together to understand the workings of the divine. In the Old Testament, King Solomon is an example of this union of reason and intuition, through which he is able to understand some of the workings of the divine. In the New Testament, Jesus himself is Wisdom incarnate, which is why he comments that "One greater than Solomon is here." (Luke 11:31) It is this type of Wisdom through which true understanding is obtained, through which we can come to understand the "knowledge of the holy."
So, although an owl may not at first seem to fit into the symbolism of Christmas, in fact, it is a symbol of Jesus himself.
At this moment in time, the 2022 Soccer World Cup is going on. Like the Olympics, the World Cup is an international gathering hosted by different countries around the world, every four years.
This World Cup, however, is different. Instead of being played in the summer months like normal, it is happening in December. This was an accommodation granted to the country of Qatar, who are the hosts. It is absolutely impossible to play multiple soccer games in the desert heat of a country like Qatar, so the tournament was moved.
Also like the Olympics, we see snapshots of fans from all over the world, cheering in the stands. As far as we can tell, everyone is getting along. There have been no riots or other symptoms of unrest, and people of different beliefs, religions and cultures are all getting along just fine. Commercials during the games show warm, cozy images of everyone getting along, painting a bright, loving picture.
So, this ornament is very appropriate for this moment in history. It shows us lots of beautiful children from all over the globe, holding hands and smiling up at us, content and happy.
There's just one problem, of course, and that is that the world, in general, is nothing like the lovely picture presented on tv or on the ornament. In fact, the whole reason for this ornament itself is to raise funds for children, many of which are not very happy at all. Unicef works to provide children with decent health care, water, nutrition and education.
Additionally, there have been many troubling reports surrounding the World Cup. Rumors and reports abound from the governing organization (FIFA) to the conditions of workers in the host country. This is not actually new; there seem to be problems and rumors around most World Cups.
But this ornament, nevertheless, is an important stop on the Advent journey because it points out one simple fact: the reason for our hope, Jesus. The great news, the cause of immense joy - yes, joy for the whole wide world, is that there is one coming who can actually deliver the promise of world peace, one who can overcome the sin in every country, in every person.
This ornament reminds us that we cannot save ourselves, regardless of how much wealth we have, how many fantastic buildings or stadiums we construct, how athletic we are, or even how artistic and creative we may be. As a race, humans have been trying to end hunger, cure disease, stop wars, educate the ignorant and respect workers since we first lifted our heads and contemplated something more. And we have not been able to do it.
As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, on the day of the Lord: "the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them... There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea." (Is 11: 6-9)
The promise of true peace portrayed on this ornament, that global events like the Olympics and the World Cup foreshadow; that day when we will truly see each other as sisters and brothers, has been announced as a definite event to come. That is the joy we hold on to.
This ornament shows Jack Skellington, from the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” wearing a Santa Claus outfit. Jack is sitting on a large book, being held in the arms of an angel. This is an unusual ornament with which to start an Advent journey, I’ll admit, but I chose this ornament because it represents the truth of the human condition. It shows where we all start. Every one of us is like a skeleton, not fully enfleshed, not fully human, doomed to sin that leads to death. The angel herself appears to emphasize the inevitability of death, in that she looks like she belongs in a cemetery, watching over some gravestones.
But there is hope! In fact, this hope has been foretold in that very book which the angel is holding. As the Gospel of Luke tells us "In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you."
Heaven has begun to act on our behalf. The Angel Gabriel has been sent to the one who has been prepared to receive God. The lamentation of Jack - and by extension the entire human race - has been heard and answered. Help is on the way.
When we look at the Advent story that ends with Christmas, then, the angel above changes from a harbinger of doom to a herald of hope. She promises to lift up all those who believe in the Word Made Flesh, changing those outer garments of red and white worn by Jack into an interior state of mercy and cleanliness. That's the promise of Advent, and we begin this journey today.
This blog page is a slightly different type of Advent calendar. Using ornaments, Scripture and poetry for reflection, we journey through the 28 days of Advent 2022 to Christmas morning, and the Incarnation of Christ.