Saturday, December 26, 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Advent: A time to WAIT or to PREPARE?

Advent sometimes brings a mix of apprehension and joy in my heart. Ordinary time is over, and we're moving into the season of anticipation and hope! But because David and I have decided that our family traditions include 1) Holding off on Christmas music and decorations until Rose Sunday 2) teaching our children to already know the truth about Santa  3) praying as a family around a lit Advent wreath and 4) adding an activity such as a Jesse Tree, a manger to be filled with "hay" that is made up of good deeds, etc...

...I admit that I struggle a lot to find balance between a certain amount of "white knuckling" through Advent and celebrating Christmas way too early. I used to act as if there were some sort of prize for being the one to celebrate Christmas the least before it's proper time. It makes Christmas day less about JOY and CELEBRATION and more about face-planting at a man-made finish line, spiritually exhausted and not at all prepared for the sheer joy that God means for us to experience. It's the truth that I used to picture God looking on me with hands on His hips and waiting to shake His almighty finger at me if I celebrated too early. Wow... someone's image of God was MESSED UP!

My pride tries desperately to creep in and stop me from the liberating experience that God wants to give me through this beautiful, hope-filled, room-making, anticipatory season. I don't bring this up because I have mastered it by any means, but because I have experienced what it feels like to reach Christmas morning and feel like God OWES me his Son because of all the waiting I've been doing. It's only been in the last few years that I have been able to dip my toe into the beauty that comes with PREPARING for Christmas instead of just WAITING for it.

To get a better sense of what I'm tackling, the best analogy that I have heard for this experience is a Hurricane: think about what happens when you prepare for a hurricane and when you simply wait for it. (Ok, if there is anyone who is not from the Gulf South, just think of your area's version of a big storm). I imagine some are wondering why I'm comparing Jesus to a hurricane... ask anyone who's had a complete 180 degree conversion and it's pretty similar to a hurricane. Anyway, you see the difference in waiting and preparing, right?  So how can I better prepare for Christmas?

Here are some ways that I have found make it easier to turn waiting into preparing:

  •  I try to think of Advent as a penitential season (yes, like Lent). I can choose to deny myself certain pleasures to strip away from my heart what is taking up too much space. (This means skipping desert and extra trips to Adoration and Mass or no TV after the kids are in bed, for example) I am really behind on this one so far this year...
  • Confession... to a priest.
  • Allow my children to talk about Christmas and ask all the questions that they want to help them better understand the difference between Advent and Christmas, while at the same time pointing out that we aren't READY to listen to/watch/decorate yet. (It's pretty sad that I use to wince when they would even attempt to talk about Christmas during Advent out of fear of celebrating incorrectly, and I would almost dismiss it completely. Sigh)
  • Study and pray with the Scriptures that are specific to Advent : Isaiah, the beginning of Luke's Gospel, John the Baptist's birth, or Advent reflection series.
  • All bets are off by Gaudete Sunday/Rose Sunday... ok not totally, but this is traditionally when we buy our tree, decorate, and allow the Christmas music to ring through the house. Truth be told, David would prefer to hold off even longer... but I JUST CAN'T STAND IT ANY LONGER!!! (December 17th is also another date that works, too. The antiphons in the Liturgy of the hours change on this day).... we're so close!!
          (A little tip... most Christmas trees are 1/2 off by this point).
  • Pregnancy- nothing helps me dive into the beauty or preparing room for the Christ child like actually growing one (obviously, we can't just dial this one up).
Each advent is a new experience. Our children are at different ages and their understanding is different, which means that we have to respond differently. I want more than anything to have a heart, a soul, (and a house) cleaned up and PREPARED to welcome Jesus, the God- made-man Child when I finally reach Christmas Mass and hear "Oh Come Let us Adore Him" ! We have a God who TRULY wants what is best for us, and for this season, it means He wants to walk with us through a season of softening and opening our hearts in order to gift us with HIS VERY SELF!