By Sarah Hebel
Advent is officially upon us! But what the heck is it all about anyways? I don’t know about you, but for most of my life, Advent has just seemed to be this convenient filler time to get us from Thanksgiving to Christmas. For me, it has been difficult to stop and think in the midst of the increasing chaos and anxiety as I realize that with each candle on the Advent wreath, I have fewer and fewer days to scrap together Christmas presents. (I am a terrible procrastinator on nearly every platform of life, and gift-purchasing is certainly no exception.) In all honesty, I am usually at a complete loss as to what Advent is and what exactly I am supposed to do with this season in the Church.
So, perhaps we can start with that: it’s a season. As a Midwesterner, I LOVE the seasons. My favorite season is always the next season. There is something exciting about the whole atmosphere changing (colors, clothing, scenes in nature, decorations, etc.). But—Advent doesn’t happen just so we can splash purple around the church and bring out the garland and Jesus-less manger scenes. To stop at the superficial manifestations of a season would be to miss the whole point. There is always a “why,” and we should not stop asking that very important question. It would be a disservice to ourselves to merely carry on absent-mindedly without thinking about the reasons for why we do what we do.
To illustrate my point: coffee shops and restaurants ooze pumpkin drinks, desserts, and dishes in the fall. Why? Because pumpkin is a fruit of the season. In the same way, the seasons of the Church produce fruits, and the reality is that we can actually choose to enter into that harvest. In the same way, the unique weather patterns lend themselves to the ripening of the crop of any season. To make a likewise comparison, in the Church seasons, God provides the right environment, namely graces, to nurture a particular area of growth in our lives. I don’t know about you, but I’m all about reaping the harvest of Advent this year! As I thought of ways to accomplish this, I developed a list of 4 things that I’m going to do this year, and I invite you to join me in using them to really prepare for Christmas this Advent.
1. Choose it. Don’t just let it happen! Before we can move forward with any external practices, we need to decide that we want this Advent to mean something. We need to decide that it is different from Christmas, and we need to be convinced that by entering into the season, we can actually grow spiritually and more fully participate in Christmas once it finally does arrive.
2. Ask God what He wants to use this time for. Pray about it. Once we have decided to commit to the season, let’s ask God His opinion on the matter. He is the one who made the season to begin with, and He knows what graces He has prepared for us. Choosing something random that might be above and beyond our normal day-to-day routine, but has no particular or personal meaning will just lend itself to empty practices and little fruit. Instead, prayerfully consider different options and ideas. Look up ideas online, or ask friends and family what they do. Or contrive an original idea! God will help us think of something meaningful and significant, even if it isn’t necessarily super difficult—it’s not about accomplishing anything extraordinary, but rather about being open and disposed to receive the graces God wants to make available to us in this time.
3. Don’t start Christmas early. I know with the gift-buying, Christmas music on the radio, ugly sweaters, peppermint mochas, and Christmas lights, we can easily get carried away and start to think that Christmas starts with Black Friday, not Christmas Eve. December 25th is just the beginning of the Christmas season, not the end! Following the Liturgical Calendar, we get from December 24th-January 11th to “party ‘til the cows come home,” as we like to say where I’m from. So, while everyone else is stuck in a post-holiday stupor, finally taking a repose from a perhaps well-intentioned, but over-stressful “Advent,” we can instead kick back, take stock of the awesome things that God did in our hearts during Advent, and truly celebrate Jesus’s incarnation, His much-anticipated arrival here on earth!
4. Share the experience. When we share what we are doing, we can encourage others around us to stop and think for a moment about their own actions and motivations. Additionally, the fruits of our efforts can be multiplied through sharing! I know I always appreciate something more fully after I’ve told someone else about it. I often don’t even realize the full extent of my experiences until I’ve tried to explain them to someone else!
Alright, bonus points for getting to the end of this blog and not just skimming the steps! I’m excited to make this Advent count, and I hope I have inspired you to do the same! My prayers to you as you all seek to take on this Advent with (hopefully) a renewed conviction to capitalize on the crop of a potentially very fruitful season!
Image by http://cdn1.theodysseyonline.com/files/2015/11/19/635835071674962451-1372731951_target.jpg