Friday, November 20, 2015

Advent: What Are We Waiting For?

Even before Halloween, how many of you were growing anxious about Christmas? Let's be honest, with so much emphasis being placed on holiday sales ad the professional football training necessary to successfully beat out competing shoppers, even before Thanksgiving, it can be easy to overlook the importance of the coming season of Advent. At the heart of the spirit of Advent is the importance of preparation, but preparation for what? At the risk of over-simplifying, we are preparing for a child. Of course, we know that Jesus was not just any child, but other than a few cryptic comments from the angel Gabriel and high priest, Simeon, even the Blessed Mother knew very little more of what was to come. Yet, she trusted in the Lord, and the world was awarded with abundant grace.

Prepare the Way

Four years ago, I was an expectant mother during Advent, and I can remember especially appreciating the importance of the Advent season. I found myself also preparing for a child in many ways, carefully choosing holy godparents, collecting and washing clothes, cleaning the house, and generally preparing a welcoming home for the newest member of our family. As a Catholic, I cannot help but notice the parallels between the realities of modern life and the mysteries of our faith. As Christmas approaches, we will all find ourselves cleaning, decorating, and preparing our homes, and of course, we should be doing that. It is an important part of hospitality, whether in anticipation of family and friends or a new addition to the family. It is equally important then, that we remember to spend advent preparing our hearts to receive Christ, our friend, our brother, a new baby, and most importantly, the Almighty God.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Just as I am constantly imploring our children to clean their rooms, especially of all of the papers, old toys, and general garbage, I am reminded that my own soul could use a good swift purging of spiritual "garbage" that naturally accumulates over time. This means not only a meaningful visit to the confessional, followed by a commitment to regular confession, but also daily efforts to actively live out my new commitment to do what is right and turn from what causes us to sin. I am sure many of us would admit that we tend to commit the same offenses, but trying to fix all of our failures often leads to discouragement and more failure. Just as I try to help my children divide their cleaning into smaller jobs (clothes, garbage, toys), we as adults can experience greater peace by choosing one or two areas to improve, so our fallen nature does not seem quite so  overwhelming, "For with God, nothing will be impossible" (Lk 1:37 RSV).

The Reason for the Season

The word "advent" comes from the Latin ad venire, which means "to come" or in the related term, adventus, "arrival". We know from the prophet Jeremiah to expect the coming of the king,

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness" (Jer 33:14-16).

As the Divine Son approaches, a clean heart and home are important, but our family preparation also includes some measures to save money because, it is no secret that having children is not cheap. After all, in addition to the normal expenses, there are also gifts for what seems like a small village, so though we are a mere small spectacle compared to other larger families, it is far from being inexpensive by any measure. Born into a profound poverty, our Advent guest has needs, but not the material items we seek. As King of Creation, our Lord needs nothing, but also as our human brother, he needs our hands to care for His people. Our family tries to look for small practical ways to help, and we experienced a wonderful blessing when we chose one season to give up dining out. Not only did we save money, but we were also able to use some of that savings to shop for local food banks, which, as we so often hear, are in greater need than ever at this time of year.

The Greatest Gift of All

There is also something beautiful in setting up a family Nativity and encouraging children (and parents) to do extra chores or save a little extra money to offer to Mary in preparation for the coming of her child. We can prepare a home for Him, who was born into such poverty, and use those small sacrifices to prepare an Advent home that inspires us to love and care for those who live with Him in their own poverty. It is these small preparations that also help us to remember that when we celebrate Jesus' birth beginning with Christmas, and that Advent is a time of preparation, both of heart and home, for the Christ child. Learning the importance of the gift of love is one hat lasts beyond Advent and Christmas because it teaches us the importance of learning that work, and even suffering, and experience not unknown in families, is a sacrifice when united with love.

As a wife and mother, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by each day without giving thought to my own spiritual life, but supporting my children's spiritual lives requires my own spiritual health to be in good shape first. It is rarely easy, but preparing for both the new calendar and liturgical years, and even a new child, should not intimidate us when we model our lives after St. Therese of Liseux, whose life was filled with the grace of doing "little things with great love" Filling Advent with small acts of faith, hope, and charity can not only inspire great love and dedication in our children, but it can help us to prepare our own hearts to receive the Lord Jesus this Christmas, and what heart does not need the joy and hope found in the face of a newborn baby?

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