I want to share the little journey of how I came to start living Advent in its truest sense, and I hope my experience is an encouragement to you this Advent.
Growing up my family was pretty secular, we never celebrated Advent. In fact, as soon as Thanksgiving was over, we jumped right into the joy of Christmas. We busied ourselves for a month with decorating, holiday baking, shopping, and my dad putting lights on everyone’s home in the neighborhood with his cherry picker. It was a fun and exciting time that is full of many wonderful and fond memories, but I also remember a feeling that stands out distinctly.
The day after Christmas all of that momentum came to an abrupt stop, and in the blink of an eye all that time came and went without any interior recognition of what we just celebrated. Essentially, we prepared ourselves for the holiday season, but not at all for the birth of Christ.
Through the years, with the help of God’s guiding graces I delved further into my Catholic faith and learned about the solemn and reflective season of Advent. These are the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Through my journey of faith I came to see and cherish that as a hopeful Christian, Advent is meant to be a time of prayerful preparation and purifying penance to ready my heart for Christ’s coming. I was so excited to live this, because I didn’t want to feel that twinge of emptiness after Christmas day.
I did all the Advent activities that I could and did my best to not worry as much about the hustle and bustle of buying the best gifts and fighting the crowds, but really focusing myself on the birth of our Savior. I did so much Advent “stuff” that when the season ended, my heart still wasn’t ready. It was as if I exchanged all the secular preparation for a lot of Catholic themed activities, only to end up in the same place.
I don't want you to fall into the same mix up that I did, and I think it can be very easy to do such given the amount of messages we see during season of Advent that say we need to be "doing" something. I want to speak plainly and share that the only thing you need to do is to slow down, pray, experience some silence in your day, make sacrifices, and perhaps pick one or two Advent activities. Invite your children, husband, and friends to experience these things with you. Through our own imitation of Mary, waiting patiently and prayerfully for the birth of her child, we can more fully experience the elation that is Christmas.
This taught me an additional lesson, that Advent is challenging and countercultural. Instead of noise there is silence, instead of celebrating there is waiting, instead of indulging there is penance. Keep in mind that Advent is not only a season that guides us in waiting for Jesus to be born on Christmas day, but for the second coming. We live Advent every single day in the broader scope in that we seek to prepare our hearts, minds, and actions for the day when Christ returns. We want to be ready for this and not caught off guard, or wishing that we had been more intentional. These are same kind of feelings that I had when I had busied myself too much during the season of Advent. The theological correlations are the same, I pray that we can seek to remember them.
This year I am approaching this season differently, and I decided to do a couple of small things with great intentionality; I lovingly challenge each of you to do this too! This year I am focusing on more time for silence, less TV, music, social media, checklists, full schedules, etc. and more time to walk with St. Joseph to Bethlehem, befriend Mary in the stable, and to gaze at this little Holy Family with the animals as we await the child that will save us all.