The Communist regime under which I grew up in Central Europe, had a very interesting effect on the celebration of Christian holidays. In a paradoxical manner it preserved their more traditional, pristine character. The regime was proudly atheistic so there was no public commercially tainted December-long bombardment with Christmas sentiments. Proper Christian Christmas hymns and carols were not used and commercially abused to their very limits by every supermarket or mall. Thus in churches and Christian homes we could keep true Christian traditions, observing the season of Advent without Christmas decorations. Those would come in on Christmas Eve. The Christmas Eve pageant was prepared for Christmas Eve afternoon. First Christmas carols and hymns were sung at the Christmas Eve service. It kept the Christmas spirit for Christmas and we could observe true Advent, sing meaningful Advent hymns and concentrate on Advent themes. Traditionally Advent is a season of preparation, fasting and spiritual exploration, asking what truly matters in our life and in the world, how can we prepare for the prince of peace, what are the rules governing his kingdom.
Respecting this Advent Season our church musicians have prepared for us very special music for this Sunday afternoon’s concert, The Magnificat in D major by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is exuberant music, short and succinct, brimming with anticipation and joy, and also loaded with Advent meaning.
Here is the text of Mary’s hymn in modern translation. Just think about it in the context of our pre-Christmas commercial madness. It is full of anticipation and simple joy, but you cannot miss the strong social justice themes.
Mary said: My soul glorifies you my LORD,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my God and Savior.
You took notice of me, your lowly servant girl.
Indeed from now on, all generations will called me blessed,
for you have done great things for me,
your name is holy indeed!
From generation to generation
you extend mercy to your faithful folk.
You do tremendous things by your power.
Dispersing the arrogant with all their tricks.
Bringing down the rulers from their lofty thrones.
Lifting up the outcasts in their place.
Feeding the hungry with all good things.
Kicking the rich out with empty bags.
Coming to the help of your servant people.
Remembering your promise of mercy-love.
Those promises you made to our ancestors of old.
To Abraham and Sarah and all their children of every time and space.
Sometimes I think that celebration of Advent and Christmas under Secular Communism was somehow easier than it is under Capitalist Consumerism. The atheism was like a clear bullying antagonist, consumerism behaves more like a false friend, luring us quietly and deceptively away. We need to be so much thoughtful and intentional! Thankfully we have the biblical message and magnificent music to help us on our way.