Reclaiming Advent

Advent.  It means “coming.” The season of Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and is the beginning of the new liturgical year for Catholics and some other Christians.  It’s a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord at Christmas.  We’re in that darkening time of year when nights come early and last for many hours.  We long for the light of Christ to come and show us our way.  We’re waiting for Christmas but we’re also preparing for Christ’s next coming at the end of time.  Advent and Lent are penitential seasons in the Church calendar.  Both are opportunities for us to prepare to meet Christ, at our death and at the final judgment.  So we’re called to pray more, to fast more, and to give more to those in need.  Advent is a beautiful and holy time of year—as if the whole world is holding its breath, awaiting the King.
 
Sadly, much of our culture has forgotten about Advent.  It’s become the lost season.  We rush from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s, without any thought or pause for Advent.  We shop and cook and eat and party.  Our schedules are over-scheduled and our shopping bags are overfilled. There’s never enough time to get everything bought and wrapped and delivered.  At a time of year when we should be full of the peace and joy of His coming, we’re caught up in buying and doing without a moment to reflect on Who is coming to be everything we’ve ever needed or wanted or hoped for.  And we’re losing out when we lose Advent.
 
So this year,, let’s honor the coming of Christ by doing something radical—let’s reclaim the season of Advent. Here are some simple ideas to help us all remember the true meaning of these weeks before Christmas:
1) Resist the urge to decorate for Christmas just yet.  When we jump ahead to full-on Christmas mode, we begin to celebrate before we’ve prayed, fasted, and given alms.  If you just have to do something seasonal, put out an Advent wreath on a table.  Use real evergreens to fill the house with their wonderful aroma.  Three purple candles and one rose candle make up the lights.  On each Sunday of Advent, light a candle and read a few verses from Isaiah which speak of the coming of the Savior (Chapters 7, 8, 9, 48 and 52).  The rose candle should be lit on the third Sunday to remind us that the wait is almost over.  2) Use an Advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas.  Kids love opening each day’s “door” and seeing what treat lies behind it.  Counting down the days together is a wonderful chance to talk with your kids about the meaning of Christmas and why we celebrate His birth. 3) Spend some time as a family reading the Gospel stories of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke.  Read a verse together and then talk about it.  What’s an angel?  Who was Mary and what was she like?  What would it be like to travel on a donkey?  How did Mary and Joseph feel as they looked for a place to stay?  4) Do something for someone else.  Invite a single friend to share a meal in your home.  Take some toys to the local family and children’s service for kids in need.  Volunteer at the local food pantry or soup kitchen.  Write a letter to a family member you’ve been distant or estranged from. 5)  Put out a Nativity scene or creche.  Start with the manger and gradually add the animals, the shepherds, Mary, Joseph and the angels over the weeks of Advent.  But don’t place the baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas Eve.  Again, this sort of family tradition will emphasize the waiting and longing for Christ’s birth that is what Advent is all about.  Finally, by “saving” Advent, we also save the Christmas season.  Christmas isn’t OVER on Christmas Day—it’s just beginning!  We celebrate the joy of His birth until January 8, 2012 which is the Feast of the Epiphany when the Magi arrived to pay Him homage.  By reclaiming Advent we also get the gift of an extended Christmas season.  Keep your tree and lights up and relish the joy of Christmas season.  In reclaiming Advent we have the time to prepare our hearts for Christmas.  We can savor the anticipation of His coming, both at Bethlehem and at the end of time.

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