(Re-posted from December 9, 2005)
This is the season of Advent, a time of waiting and watching and pondering the mystery of the great feast of the Incarnation—the birth of the God-man. So, being a person of faith and deep devotion, I know exactly what you’re doing during these weeks before you celebrate the birth of the Savior.
Yes, as the winter’s first snow flakes fall, you are snug at home sitting in your rocker before the warm fireplace. Enjoying a cup of tea, you are taking a casual stroll down memory lane as you open and carefully read Christmas cards sent by family and friends. Since yours were sent out the day after Thanksgiving, you now have ample time to happily bake your holiday pies and cookies and clean the entire house from top to bottom. Thank God you were also prepared weeks in advance as all your gifts, purchased months ago, are meticulously wrapped and carefully arranged about your decorated tree. Yes, Advent is here and you have weeks to simply relax and drink in the deep mystery and the true message of the Christmas season.
Okay! Everybody wake up! Sorry to jar you from such a wonderful dream, but let’s get with reality. Am I the only one running the annual Advent marathon? Remember the rules: the last one to collapse in exhaustion wins! No, not even friars experience Advent as a “spiritual oasis.” You should see the poor seminarian friars with whom I live; they’re all up to their ears with their studies, preparing for their finals, and staying up late to finish their term papers. They’re bleary eyed when they stumble into the chapel for 6 AM Morning Prayer!
It’s true for many people, whether your a monk or married or anything in between, the weeks of Advent can be quite hectic and often devoid of real spiritual preparation for Christmas. While we may wish we had planned ahead, we often end up with a long “to do” list which keeps us very busy. For this reason, we can ask an appropriate question, “What can we do to make Advent less hectic and more holy?”
It may be helpful to point out that we must face the fact that since the sixties, the spiritual landscape of our American culture has been changing. The dry desert winds of secularism and so-called “progressive” thinking began to affect or “infect” first, higher education, then the media, then the political arena, and obviously certain sectors of the Church. Thus, the days when all people, even non-Christians, were positively influenced and invigorated during the Christmas season through cultural osmosis are over.
This being said, we now must exert an extra effort to possess some semblance of an authentic religious focus. So, where do we begin to gain back the ground we have lost? Well, if charity begins at home, so too does spirituality. So right now let’s not look at out our window, but within our own four walls. Let us be honest and ask ourselves if the dry and salted sand of secularism has taken over our once fertile garden of faith.
For example, as lawyers and legislatures wrestle over Christmas decorations being permitted in public parks, why not look at your own front lawn? What message are you giving if you have light-up reindeers and candy canes? Would you spend as much money on a crèche as you would a Christmas tree? Are the cards you are sending Christ-centered or simply cute? Have you chosen gifts for family members and friends based solely on what they want or what they really need?
To practically prepare for Christmas during Advent means we continually keep in mind the purpose of all our efforts and activities. It means creating a spiritual environment which helps us keep our focus. The lives of the saints teach us that activity need not make us forgetful of God. Like the hub of a rapidly turning tire, a heart centered on God can be at peace and in prayer despite the twists and turns of the road. So, during your Advent adventures, try to keep your heart centered on God within. Let’s not forget, the very first Advent was for Joseph and Mary very hectic, but then, one night it became very, very holy.
Fr. Glenn Sudano, CFR
Advent Meditations by Fr. Groeschel - order here