OK - I know - I know - it's a tad early to be thinking about Christmas! But bear with me; I can explain everything!
A few months ago I was given the honour and privilege of being allowed to become our church's Parochial Church Council secretary. What does this mean? Can you guess? Right first time! Lots and lots and LOTS of paperwork. Do I like paperwork? That depends. I do if it's pretty and it's fun - which it is if it has pictures.
So the minute I had been let loose on the unsuspecting Church Council, the name Erspamer came to mind. Well, that's not strictly true. I thought "Wait a minute... who's that guy... the one with the amazing clipart for every season of the church's year... the guy whose clipart Real Live Preacher always had on his website...?"
So I Googled and reminded myself of the artist's name - Steve Erspamer - then I Googled in earnest to find out where I could get his clipart.
I was a bit horrified to discover that it was going for the price of hens' teeth on Amazon, on account of apparently having gone out of print. Steve Erspamer's clipart is sold in three volumes: Clipart for Year A, Clipart for Year B and Clipart for Year C, following the Scripture readings and the traditional feasts and fasts of the Catholic three-year lectionary cycle.
I managed to get Clipart for Year A at a reasonable price from an Amazon second-hand retailer, then found the Year B and Year C books for sale at Borders - again at a reasonable price. Each book gives pictures of all the clipart, and a CD-ROM for use with PC and MAC so the clipart can be used for parish handouts etc - or, in my case, for the agendas and minutes of the PCC and the Standing Committee, being the limit so far of my playground.
Then guess what? Borders went out of business. Before they had a chance to process my order. Oh no! Back to the drawing board. At least I had the Year A book though, and as it actually is Year A at the moment, that was OK.
So nothing deterred I went and searched again. And this time I found McCrimmons. Oh, happy day!! I searched their site for Erspamer and ta-da! All three books cheaper than anywhere else! Proper new copies, so no anxieties like you get with buying secondhand in case they've lost the CD or the presbytery puppy has chewed up the first 25 pages.
But that wasn't all I found under 'Erspamer' at McCrimmons. I found Something Else. They had this Advent calendar that he has made, wondrous and beautiful and amazing. It is eighteen inches high (or you can get a shorter twelve-inch one), and folds into three vertically with a sticky tab to fix it, so that it stands up like a triangular house. I am not describing this well. Do you know what I mean? Look:
And it doesn't have only twenty-four doors to open, because it's for Christmas-tide - the whole Christmas story of the coming of Jesus - not just Advent. So it has forty doors to open!
In the triangular column you create by fixing it together and standing it up (though if you want you could just fold it out flat and fix it up against a window), you could stand candles (better the electric sort so you don't inadvertently reduce it to ashes halfway through the first week of Advent). As you open each door, the beautiful pictures revealed are on paper like greaseproof paper, so they are like stained glass windows. Here's one:
Can you see the writing revealed on the inside of the doors as you open them? The right-hand one is a quotation from the Gospel of Luke, and the left-hand one is a quotation from Deuteronomy. It's for Day 16.
From Luke 2:5-6
Joseph went up to Bethlehem to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there the time came for her to deliver her child.
What I really like about that is that it says child. Because it will be a child who is opening the doors - so, 'a child - like me!'
And from Deuteronomy 10:18-19:
The Lord loves the stranger, providing them with food and clothing. You shall love the stranger, for you yourself were once strangers in the land of Egypt.
I haven't peeped into the other doors, because I want them to stay closed for a surprise when Advent comes - I just wanted to show you one, so you'd know what the calendar is like.
But wait - that's not all! There's this as well:
A booklet of readings and prayers by Craig M.Mueller to use with Steve Erspamer's calendar, so the opening of each door becomes a short devotional ceremony.
The booklet starts with an explanatory introduction covering issues like different traditions in different churches.
Then there's a Note to Parents with some suggestions for enriching and extending the calendar devotions with candles, and Advent wreath etc.
Then there's a page headed 'Daily Prayer' which gives a very short liturgy to make a daily framework into which the prayers and readings will fit.
After that come the readings and prayers.
Here are the ones for December 16th:
Think of some trips you have taken. How long did you travel? Did you go in a train, car or airplane, or by some other way? Did it take a long time to get there?
Before Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem. When they got to Bethlehem, there was no place for them to stay.
Advent is a time to make room. We pray that this Christmas there would be room in our hearts for Jesus to be born.
Let us pray.
prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.
In our busy lives
help us to make room for your love.
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
If you have a manger scene, put it up today. Put out the animals and the manger. Put the shepherds nearby, in the field watching their flocks. Between now and Christmas Eve have Mary and Joseph travel closer each day to the manger.
Some days just have prayers and readings, and the opening of the calendar door. Other days have additional activities suggested.
Here is a close-up picture of part of the calendar:
Now - how fab is that?!!!
Oh - and my order from McCrimmons not only came really really quick, it was the best wrapped parcel I have ever had through the post - bar none! And as the Royal Mail do a sterling job at mashing the corners of books sometimes, I felt very grateful to McCrimmons for that.
One thing I should tell you. Because this is a Catholic publication, extreme Protestants who find Marian feasts offensive may not like everything in the clipart or the calendar devotions. But you can choose and improvise, in such case.
Here's Joseph in his many-coloured coat from the Year B clipart:
All the clipart is free to copy without acknowledgement if you want to use it for a parish or school or similar. But you have to write away for the publisher's permission if it's going to be used on something you will be selling.
The introduction to the clipart book says: Liturgical images can educate as well as illustrate. They teach without words. They tell stories, evoke moods, and remind us of things we almost forgot. The images in this book do even more: they can lead us into the lectionary, into the scriptures and psalms and even the spirit of the liturgy. They can lead us into mystery.
Well! Is that all fab? Is the Pope a Catholic?
The calendar is called the Fling Wide The Doors Calendar:
The copyright of all materials is with Liturgy Training Publications of the Archdiocese of Chicago.