My favorite Advent greeting is “Happy New Year!” The greeting is technically accurate since Advent is the start of the liturgical year. And it reminds me that this time is one of renewal, of a fresh start. We so often focus on New Year’s resolutions as something we do after Christmas, when the drudgery of January hits and we don’t mind giving up sweets so much. Now, before you ditch this article for fear that I am going to ask you to give up Christmas cookies, hear me out. I’m not suggesting an Advent exercise routine or diet. Instead, this new year — this Advent — let us make a resolution of hope: hope amid our darkness.
You have probably noticed that the liturgical color for Advent is purple, the same color we use to represent the season of Lent. Why? Because Advent is a penitential season, a season of waiting and preparation, a season in which we ought to practice similar penitential practices to Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Yet when we live in a world that begins celebrating Christmas on the first day of November, it can seem nearly impossible to wait that long for Christmas or to authentically prepare for something we have already been celebrating for a full month.
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This year, I would like to invite us to a simple incorporation of the full meaning of Advent by focusing on one element of the season each of the four weeks. Don’t let this list be one more holiday to-do, but rather something that focuses, clarifies and simplifies your understanding of December and helps you to live out Christmas with an ever-deepening awareness and joy.
Week 1: Pray
Incorporate one new element of prayer into each day this week! Here are some suggestions:
- Write in a prayer journal for 10 minutes.
- Pray the Rosary.
- Read a chapter or two out of your Bible.
- Take a walk to talk to Jesus.
- Reflect with an Advent devotional.
- Gather your family for a special prayer time.
You can practice the same prayer habit throughout the week or mix it up by trying something new each day. The key is to add something that goes beyond your normal routine. This will help you realize the specialness of the season and center yourself in the peace of Christ.
Week 2: Fast
Find one way to sacrifice this week. Maybe it means turning off your radio or favorite Spotify playlist on the drive into work and soaking in the silence. Or limiting time on your TV or smartphone. I promised I wouldn’t suggest that you give up Christmas cookies, but how about no snacks or sweets until after dinner time?
The crucial thing is not how drastic you make your fast but that you choose something that will limit your bodily distractions in order to help focus your mind and heart on what is most important: the coming of Christ. Let whatever you sacrifice lead you into a hopeful anticipation of how Christ fills every emptiness and longing of our hearts.
Week 3: Give
Give of your time, talent or treasure in some way this week. You don’t have to do this each day; just set aside time to give in an intentional way at least one day this week. Try one of the following:
- Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or charity that could use your help.
- Search your closet for five to 10 items that you can donate, and drop them off at a donation center.
- Research Catholic charities local to your area, and send a monetary donation to an organization you’ve never supported before.
- Consider how Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world in a stable, and especially explore the possibility of giving to a charity that supports the poor, the homeless or expectant mothers.
Week 4: Heal
As Christmas approaches, we all focus on cleaning, preparing and decorating our homes. But do we do the same for our souls? The preparation of our physical space should be sacramental — an outward sign of the invisible reality that we are preparing a beautiful space in our souls to welcome the Child Jesus. If you have not been to confession this Advent, now is the time to go! If you have already been to confession this season, take an opportunity this week to visit an adoration chapel for a Eucharistic holy hour and soak in the loving gaze of Jesus. Let Jesus touch and heal your heart as only he can; make room in your inn for him to come and to stay.
In the end, this holy season of preparation is not about perfection or dramatic asceticism. It is about letting ourselves be little enough to receive the King of the Universe when he comes as a baby. It is about realizing that we can’t have, hold or offer enough, but that in choosing to be poor, we will be small enough to meet a baby wrapped only in swaddling clothes in the intimacy of a manger. It is about letting our hearts become humble enough to recognize the richness of our neighbors and the glory of Emmanuel.
My sisters, let us make space in our hearts for the hope and the wonder of a baby. May we welcome Jesus into our hearts and our homes in a new way this new liturgical year.