In a crèche that depicts the birth of Jesus, the manger is usually left vacant until Christmas Day.
But in this reenactment, Christmas came early for students who attended the first of a weeklong series of events.
Students from Bayonne, Jersey City, and elsewhere in the county gathered to watch the procession of angels that followed the Holy Family, students dressed up as shepherds, and finally, three Wise Men or Kings.
“This is our Christmas Liturgy,” said Alice Miesnik, principal of Marist, who during the preamble to the event talked about the story and the Christian tradition of Advent—which starts on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas—and is a preparatory period symbolizing the Second Coming of Christ.
In Christian mythology, Christ is expected to return for final judgment, at which time those who have kept faith will return with him to heaven, while those who have not, are denied salvation and eternal reward.
While Christian mythology has been tainted with Dante’s Inferno in which sinners are cast into a fiery pit called Hell, many Christian theorists believe hell is simply being denied the presence of God.
The life story of Jesus—which begins with Christmas—is appealing because it also retells the stories of some of the historic figures who lived when Jesus was alive. According to Christian teaching, his sacrifice makes it possible for people to find eternal salvation.
This celebration of Advent and Christmas was a time for students to reflect and offer a promise of faith as well as other spiritual gifts.
In her opening reflection, Miesnik said this is an individual offering and asked each of the several hundred students to reflect on what they wished to give. That night in the stable, the humblest of shepherds and the wealthiest of kings each gave offerings to the infant Jesus.
The school choir sang opening and closing hymns, as well as a hymn for the lighting of the Advent Wreath. Students lighted the four blue-and-purple candles at the start of the liturgy. Singing of hymns is also part of Advent celebrations. Often, outside church settings, hymns are sung by carolers. In this instance, the choir sang hymns not carols, which were followed by prayers to celebrate the season and the coming of Christ.
Although taken with extreme reverence, Advent is a joyous forward-looking event. While not quite the high drama of Easter, which depicts the death and rebirth of Christ, the celebration often embraces similar themes.
The liturgy includes readings from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in what Christians consider the Old Testament, and a reading and dramatic presentation from the Holy Gospels according to St. Luke and Matthew from the New Testament. According to Christian teaching, the New Testament provides the foundation of Christian faith, especially in later chapters. Four books depict the life of Christ and contain what is considered by Christians to be the Word of God or quotes from Jesus that in some Bibles are printed in red.
Miesnik said Advent is a period of reflection and a giving back to God.
The week’s festivities are not all as solemn as the Christmas Liturgy. Indeed, the concluding event will be held on Friday, Dec. 20, when the school holds its Champagnat Games.
“This is a very crazy and enthusiastic indoor field day,” Miesnik said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.