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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinDecember 12, 2003 Issue 

Be intentional about Advent adjustments

Don't just stumble into making changes, deliberately seek them out

By Tom Rinkoski

photo of Tom Rinkoski
Tom Rinkoski

They changed Handel's Messiah! On Dec. 7, I went to the local Unitarian Church for a special Christmas Concert to enjoy Handel's Messiah and was blown away! It featured a group of African Drummers called "The Lost Safari Band" who were, I must honestly admit, absolutely terrific! The vocals were led by an acapella group, "Audacity" whose bass voice was the kind of bass that rivals a well-played bassoon. This performance was truly outstanding!

Actually, I think Handel would have been proud at the creative expression. But it really was a change from the Handel's Messiah I have come to know and love. Sometimes change can be both scary and exciting at the same time.

At the beginning of this month, my parents relocated to down the street from where I live. That is a major change for them, my wife and me! I have lived away from my parents since I left home at age 13 to enter the seminary. Since then, we have usually lived several states apart and have seen each other only at holidays. Now we are living down the street from one another! Pass around a full plate of Advent Adjustment for all of us!

Do you remember the Dylan song, "The Times They are a Changing"? Are you old enough to recall the Byrds singing "Turn, Turn, Turn"? Both those songs were all about changes. Life is about changes.

When my son Brian turned 13, he warned us to be prepared for changes! I was there to see my first grandchild born and knew that life would not be the same thereafter. Moving to Florida and being close to my parents was a change I sought out. I left Packerland for the South to rebuild a family connection that no cell phone could accomplish.

Don't speed through Advent, only stopping to pick up presents and blow out Advent wreath candles. Slow down and seize the change before it seizes you! Why wait for it to bite you on the nose? Play a little John the Baptist this week.

In this Sunday's reading (Lk 3:10-18) the locals come up to ask him for advice, expecting miracles and some spin doctoring. Instead, he lands unanticipated notes on life and living. The most important change you can make, he dares, is the one that is right in front of you.

It is so close sometimes, you have trouble seeing it. Especially when you are cruising so fast down the highway of life it looks like you are trying to run away. Make a decision to slow down. Choose to clear your vision. Institute a change that builds your family life, instead of just surviving another chink in the armor. Make a change in your Advent that makes you more mindful of the world you live in. Here is my idea for personal family change that is subtly but ironically tied with current Christmas custom.

Adopt a tree! Instead of cutting down a tree (and having to pay for the privilege), adopt a tree where it stands. Even if you've already have a Christmas tree, you can still try this. Begin by putting on those snow boots and mittens and going for a nature walk together. Take your whole family to Barkhausen, or Hightower State Park, or for a walk on the Fox River Trail, or some place in nature close to where you live.

Along the path, choose one tree that exhibits a sense of humor. If you can't find one, try another park. Memorize the place where it lives, so you will be able to return often. Name this tree as a member of your family. Give it your family blessing. It will be your Christmas tree! Promise to visit it as often as possible. Pick up trash around it on each visit. Bring it water during dry summer periods. Read it the poem Emily Dickinson wrote about a tree. Think about this tree while at work. As it achieves family status, take a picture and hang it on the wall next to the high school graduation photos of the kids. Start a web blog about your tree. Maybe next year, it can be featured on your Christmas cards!

The best way to prepare for the Christmas paradox of God's loving generosity to us is to get a bit paradoxical yourself.

(Rinkoski is parish Director of Religious Education at St. Augustine Church and Student Center in Gainesville, Fla. His e-mail address is [email protected].)

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