Wednesday, 27 November 2019 21:33

An Authentic Advent

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Has it happened to you already?  By the end of November your December calendar is already full to the brim with all kinds of holiday’s activities.  Your “to do” list is growing with an ever rapid pace. 

“Let’s see…there’s the neighbor’s Christmas party, the school choir concert, the nativity play rehearsals, oh I must buy gifts for the office Secret Santa exchange, don’t forget the cookie exchange with my book club, and oh there’s the nursing home caroling with the swim team, the children would hate to miss the town Christmas tree lighting, maybe I can squeeze in Christmas gift shopping on Sundays after church….some late night internet shopping should help to get it all done if I order in time, don’t forget to decide what to cook for the Christmas meals with both sides of the family….oh and then there’s the gift wrapping….”

It’s no wonder when we talk about “the most wonderful time of the year” words like “busy, exhausting, stressful, financially straining” also become descriptive vocabulary.    How can this be?  At a time when we are supposed to be celebrating the long awaited for arrival of our Lord and King who purchased for us our salvation, we can often find ourselves laden with exhaustion, burdened with expectations and often looking forward to it all be over with instead of looking forward to the Christ child’s birth.  

The Church, in her wisdom, has already instructed us on how to approach this time of year.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 524 says, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.  By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’”.  Do you in your heart and in your home make that ancient expectancy of the Messiah present?  Can you say that during Advent you renew your ardent desire for his second coming?  This is not such a simple task given our human nature combined with an increasingly secularism of this most holy time of year.  

In his book “Conversing with God in Advent and Christmas, Praying the Sunday Mass Readings with Lectio Divina”, author Stephen J. Binz writes, “The goal of our practices during Advent is to deepen our longing for Jesus, for his coming into our hearts and for his glorious coming at the end of our time”. This beautiful yet simple definition provides much to reflect upon as we approach the upcoming Advent season.  If the goal of what we do during Advent is to deepen our longing for Jesus both now and in the end of time, how can we accomplish this?  What are some ways we can attempt to help ourselves and our families experience an authentic Advent?

1. Begin with prayer.  Go to the Lord in prayer asking Him to direct your Advent.  Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you as to which Advent practices to keep (there are so many to pick from) and to guide you as you decide which events to put on the calendar and which ones to say no to.  

2. Make Mary part of your Advent. Why not journey with the one who was most expectant of the arrival of Our Lord?  Turn to the Blessed Mother who knows best how to prepare for the birth of her son.  Ask her to help you have the proper disposition of heart during Advent.   She can help you to increase the desire you have for his coming.  One great way to do this is to read, reflect upon and memorize the Magnificat. Through this song of Mary that longing for the awaited Messiah can be experienced in a poignant way.  

3. Pick and practice some Advent devotions. Pay close attention to the word “some”.  Even with good intentions to celebrate Advent well, it is easy to overdo it and still end up missing the point of the devotions.  This is where, once again, prayer is important.  Make sure to ask the Lord what He wants you and your family to do this year.  With one click of your mouse you are sure to find many articles that lay out for you a number of advent devotions-too many for one person to practice in just this one liturgical season.  Another consideration should be age-appropriateness for your children.  Walking though the Jesse Tree devotion daily with your 2 year old may not be the best idea and leave you both frustrated and exhausted.  Making a peg doll nativity set may not be very spiritually fruitful for your 15 year old son.  You get the point! 

4. Simplify and simply say no.  Ah this point….potentially the most difficult!  Let’s be honest.  There are often more offered activities during the Advent season than is humanly possible to take part in.  However sometimes, we try to “do them all”.  This is where we can lose our peace and our focus on the true reason for this season.  Sometimes what is required is some holy inactivity.  After all, it is in the stillness of our hearts where we hear the Lord speak to us.  If we spin our wheels all Advent season, how will we ever hear his voice?  How can we long for his coming if we do not stop to allow our hearts to experience it? Again, this is where prayer is important.  Only God can help you to know which things to say no to and which to agree to.  

5. Read the Bible.  For thousands of years God’s chosen people awaited the arrival of the Messiah.  Imagine their longing and desire as a people for him to come.  One of the best ways to experience Advent is to immerse yourself in the scriptures.  Think about your favorite movie.  Now imagine you had not seen the movie but instead, had someone tell you a little bit about it instead of going to see it yourself.  It isn’t the same, is it?  You don’t have the same experience, feel the emotion or have an authentic opinion on the movie until you see it yourself.  We should approach Advent the same way.  We will hear the readings at Sunday Mass and this is good.  But if we take time daily to read the history of salvation we will be able to experience more the ardent longing Advent is designed to lead us to.  This will also deepen your prayer life as well as it gives you fodder for the fire.  Two good ways to do this is to read the daily Mass readings during Advent and follow the Jesse Tree readings as well.  If you are not familiar with the Jesse Tree it is an interactive way to retell the history of the Bible from the beginning of creation through Jesus’ birth.  Different scriptures readings are read each day during Advent and have a corresponding ornament that you place on a decorative tree.  You can find the readings at this link.  However if creating ornaments and placing them on a tree is too much to add to your plate, consider just doing the readings, the most important part.  

Notice that all five points have one thread in common which is prayer.  The most fruitful “activity” we can be involved in all of Advent is prayer.  It is in prayer that we will begin to long more for Jesus, to prepare our hearts more for his coming both now and at the end of time.  Do not neglect to schedule prayer into your daily life this Advent as well as seek to pray unceasingly, as St. Paul urges us to do in Thessalonians 5:17.  How can this be done when there are so many distractions this time of year?  It is true.  Prayer is a battle.  It is not easy.  But we must persevere in prayer.  Rising early to begin the day with prayer and Bible reading is the best way to keep prayer first. As you schedule in other seasonal activities be sure to schedule prayer. Another way to do this is to pick a bible verse to meditate upon and reflect upon throughout the day.  Write it down.  Keep it with you in your pocket or purse.  Tape it to the window where you wash dishes.  After all, St. Teresa of Avila did say that God walks among the pots and pans!  Here are a just a few Advent themed verses to get you started:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone.” Isaiah 9:1

“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” Isaiah 11:1

“Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:5

Of course there are numerous verses from the Bible which would be very beneficial for meditating upon this Advent.  As you immerse yourself in scripture ask the Holy Spirit to reveal them to you.  

Finally, as you prepare for your authentic Advent ask our Blessed Mother to aid you along the way.  Entreat her to intercede for you so that you too can have the same cry of your heart, the same song of love and longing as she did as she sang “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” May you have a holy Advent!

 

Monica MartinezMonica is a married mother of 6 in Florida who is an enthusiastic convert to the Catholic Church and a lay member of the Home of the Mother. For many years she was a teacher and counselor in the public school system but now she labors with love in her home teaching and counseling the hearts of her own children.