Advent, that time of joyful hope, is here again. Time to wait with Mary and Joseph, spiritually alert to the Christ-child’s appearance.
At least, that’s the plan. But it’s a bit tricky to maintain a solemnly joyful vigil in real life, isn’t it?
As Advent began our family was in the midst of end of school year-end events; with performances and carols nights, class Christmas parties, kris kringles, and a school musical. Three out of our five kids graduated to another stage of schooling as well.
I tried to be organised so I could block out some solid daily prayer and reading time but it was impossible. Every couple of days I found myself back at the shops during that time for some item or other that a child suddenly had to have ‘by tomorrow’.
Before marrying, when I could do as I pleased, I used to make a weekend silent retreat during Advent and loved it.
But with a husband, five young children, a greater number of friends, family, and work colleagues these weekends are for early Christmas parties, BBQs and dinners, carols by candlelight and more.
They’re not for retreating, unless I want to be a ‘quasher’ of Christmas joy as per Simcha Fisher’s observation of Christians who bemoan the premature celebrations everywhere at this time of year.
Nevertheless I want to reap the particular graces of this Advent 2017 and this is how I plan to do it. You mind find some of these ideas helpful too.
The busyness of this time of year only leaves me with pathetic scraps of mental energy when I do get to read scripture or pray.
I can choose to trust that God will take them as if I’ve given much more. Just as Jesus was happy once to see the poor widow put her only coin into the temple treasury.
It doesn’t matter how much or how little we do; if we really hunger to be more aware of God’s presence we can trust that God is already close to us. So teach many of the saints including the Carmelite Brother Lawrence in his Practice of the Presence of God.
Also, St Therese of Lisieux said of prayer that it is an “aspiration of the heart” and “simple glance toward heaven”.
“It is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.”
I can trust that no amount of activity or fatigue will prevent me from this kind of prayer during the busiest of December weeks.
Keep a book handy
I always have good reading both on my phone via the Kindle app, and in actual book form in the loungeroom and bedroom, so I can dip in to something when I have some minutes free, such as when waiting for dinner to finish in the oven.
There are great devotional books, apps, and podcasts around for those of us wanting to enter with the Church the spirit of this season.
Two great reads, apart from the Scriptures and the Divine Office are Chosen – Daily Advent and Christmas Reflections 2017 which is produced by the Wollongong diocese, and Preparing for Christmas With Pope Benedict XVI: An Advent Novena.
For a great free Advent app, try Xt3.com’s Xt3 Advent Calendar 2017 which includes a daily reflection, Bible quote, and multimedia item, and the Universalis app for the Divine Office (daily prayer of the Church.
Pick one focal point
A candle wreath on the dinner table, a nativity scene in most other rooms, and Advent calendar with biblical figures are daily reminder that this is a specially-graced time. Jesus’s arrival is imminent, no matter what crisis of kid meltdowns or parental losing-it occurs.
Give a little more
I usually buy a few Columban Art Calendars and some Caritas Global gifts each year for some families and people who like to receive them.
Make one change
I’ve decided to start one small daily habit during Advent (offering a compliment) to try to correct a habit of being critical by default. I have to keep it simple because there are a few aspects of my personality I wish were different. I get overwhelmed if I think about them all at once, but if I can establish this one habit during December then I will hopefully enter the Christmas season and New Year a little better – which is the whole point of Advent.
Keep hopes high and expectations low
I don’t expect to be able to keep a perfect Advent and arrive at Christmas 100% serene and holy and able to offer the perfect welcome to the child Jesus. I know myself better than that.
I have very low expectations of what can be achieved through my preparations, and Christmas will come and go so quickly.
But I have great hope that the tiny, messed-up, or failed efforts I do make will add up to something in God’s eyes. It doesn’t take much to make a little baby happy after all.