According to nine-time Grammy-nominated Christian music songwriter and artist Matt Maher, the very best thing about Advent is that it takes time.
“What’s invaluable about the season of Advent is that it really becomes a reflective time that is deeply transformational,” said Maher, who grew up in the Catholic Church but didn’t develop a passion for his faith until he was 21 and had a conversion experience while playing music on a Life Teen retreat. “The thing is, when you have a baby, it takes time. There is time built into the conception and the pregnancy of Mary that even the Holy Family had to experience.
“That’s always a challenge with the Christian journey. How do we not short circuit our experience because we want whatever is immediate to happen right now? How do we give ourselves space and time to enter into a deeper mystery and consider the waiting part? Advent is a living parable akin to Martha and Mary in the Gospels.
“The party’s going to happen but how do you get ready for it? Are you like Martha who is just getting all the work done but is not really present and grumbles about all the work she’s doing? Or are you Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus? I think there’s a way to do the necessary work that we do to get ready for Christmas but I think there’s an attitude and heart change that needs to happen in order to encounter Jesus in the midst of all that.”
To aid in this Advent journey of discovery, this year Maher has released both a new CD and a children’s bedtime story book, both titled The Advent of Christmas and both pointing the way to more aware and joyful Advent and Christmas seasons. The idea for the book followed Maher’s concept for an album of Advent and Christmas music, but there was something even deeper at work than making a new album when he started writing the songs.
“The catalyst for making this record was probably celebrating Christmas without my dad for the first time in 2017,” said Maher, a practicing Roman Catholic who has seen widespread acceptance in evangelical circles, receiving three Dove Award nominations and awarded the Songwriter of the Year at the 2015 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards.
“When you lose a parent you realize your whole life has involved them and that continues to reverberate. I have three young kids and seeing them get excited about the holiday season was bittersweet. I wanted to share those moments with my family and my dad wasn’t here.”
There’s at least one song on the CD that Maher is hoping will find its way into hymnals and congregational singing, adding to the relatively slim selection of Advent music. It’s a Gospel-tinged song called “Hope for Everyone,” and he sings in the chorus:
We are waiting on the promise
For the one who lights the darkness
Bending low to be among us
Bring your glory in the highest, Jesus.
The children’s book follows the weeks of Advent, teaching the meaning of each Advent candle and its color, following the Holy Family into Bethlehem, and ending with the birth of Jesus. The rhyming text of the book includes this central idea:
Upon the wreath five candles, they sit: Three purple, one pink, and one white.
The purple for fasting, the pink for rejoicing, The white for a long Christmas night.
“Story time is a big deal at my house and has become such a massive way in which truths and ideas are imparted to our children,” he said. “So I wanted to write a bedtime story about Advent and make it short so parents won’t mind reading it,” said the wise father of three children, ages 7, 5, and 2.
Living in a world that chooses to celebrate Christmas the day after Thanksgiving for a month and then move on, there’s a need for teaching the truths and beauty of the Church in short and simple ways, Maher said.
“We’re living in a day and age where human technology is propelling the story of humanity forward at an exponentially accelerating rate, and there’s always this risk and danger of us losing the things that are important. For me, I have kids and I want them to know the beauty of Advent, and I know that it’s not primarily the job of Catholic schools to do all of that work,” said Maher, who has garnered multiple radio successes with songs like “Lord, I Need You,” “Hold Us Together,” and “Your Grace Is Enough.”
Maher admits that he learned some things about the meaning and the symbols of the Advent season by writing the short poem that forms the book. Perhaps most importantly, he came to see that you don’t need to understand everything fully to celebrate it.
“That’s the beauty of so much of the Catholic faith,” he said. “If you want to have a doctorate in theology that’s great, but you don’t need one. The Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand.”