The four weeks leading up to the great celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (a.k.a. Christmas) are known collectively as the Season of Advent. It is this holy season that we will enter into in six days' time. Are you ready?
Far too often the season of Advent is overshadowed by our proximate preparations for Christmas: shopping, wrapping, partying, cleaning, writing, baking, shoveling, etc. and the spirit of the season of Advent is lost almost entirely. Sadly, in some cases it is lost entirely. This should not be so with us.
What, then, is the spirit of the season of Advent? We cannot recover it if we do not know what it is that we should be recovering.
The spirit of Advent, if you will, is simple and "has a two-fold character, for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ's Second Coming at the end of time" (Universal Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 39).
What is more, "Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight" (Universal Norms, 39). I ask you to think back to the four weeks before Christmas last year. Can you say that they were a time of devout and expectant delight? If they were, give thanks to God; if they were not, strive to make them so this year.
We must be intentional and purposeful if we are to live the days of Advent in devout and expectant delight. Permit me, if you will, to make a few suggestions to help each of us live the coming days well:
- Finish your shopping this week. Get it out of the way and complete. You may need to pick up a few gifts in the days before Christmas, but go when the stores will be less full, so as to avoid unnecessary frustration and distraction.
- Wrap a present a day (basically, spread them out) throughout Advent. The joy of giving can then be heightened and prolonged and even grow within us.
- As you wrap your gifts, pray for the person to whom you will give, asking the Lord to fill them with his joy and peace at his Coming.
- Don't accept every invitation to holiday parties and gatherings. Leave time and space with your family and close friends to spend in prayer and spiritual reading. Ask yourself, will this celebration help me prepare for Christmas or distract me from it's proper celebration?
- Find a good book on Advent or Christmas and read it prayerfully through the days of Advent. In this Year of Faith, this is a particularly good idea.
- Put up your Christmas tree - but only with lights - on December 17th, when the O Antiphons begin. It is on this day that the readings at Mass begin to shift their focus from the Second Coming of the Lord to his birth in Bethlehem. Don't neglect to use the first part of Advent to prepare for the Last Day.
- Put the rest of the ornaments on the tree on December 24th, or perhaps add a few ornaments each day between December 17th and December 25th.
- If you insist on putting up your tree early, use it as a Jesse Tree.
- Don't forget an Advent calendar to help mark the time and keep you focused.
- Don't put out your Nativity set until December 17th, but leave the stable and the manger empty. Put the Magi on one side of the room and the Mary and Joseph on the other. Begin moving Mary and Joseph a little each day toward the stable; do so with the Magi beginning with Christmas itself. The shepherds you can leave milling about the stable watching their sheep.
- Go to confession before the Season of Advent begins. And go again before Christmas.
- Find your Advent Candles now (and a wreath, if you don't have one). I saw a set of candles the other day at Hallmark and at Yankee Candle (it's not always easy to find a set of Advent Candles, and it's not always to find three purple and one pink candle individually).
- Write a few Christmas cards each day and pray for those who will receive them. This will help from feeling overwhelmed by attempting them all at once.
- Be sure to celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6th.
- Remind yourself each day what the Season of Advent is about.
- Pray for the grace not to give in to the temptation to consumerism and materialism.
The Lord wants us to celebrate these days of preparation well and if we spend some time in advance preparing for these days of preparation, we will surely be blessed and led deeper into the mystery of the Lord's two Comings.
Oh, and one more thought: the Christmas season begins the evening of December 24th and concludes with the Baptism of the Lord on January 13th.