Christmas is coming. But judging by decorations at stores, it may seem as if Christmas has been here for a while. The early celebration might take away from the big day, but fortunately we have Advent to anticipate the arrival of Jesus.
As Catholic speaker and author Katie Prejean McGrady wrote last year, we need these weeks to prepare our hearts, minds and homes for “the greatest gift ever given to mankind: the presence of the Lord in the world.”
There are different traditions that help us reflect on God’s story of salvation and to anticipate the approach of Christ, the light of the world. One church tradition is the Advent wreath, and families also have Advent calendars and Jesse trees. Here are more ways to prepare between Dec. 2 and Dec. 24 this year.
• Structured reflection. Choose an Advent guide such as Mary DeTurris Poust’s “Waiting in Joyful Hope,” LifeTeen’s “Awaken Hope” or the Pauline sisters’ “Advent Christmas Grace.” Organizations such as CAFOD, Catholic Relief Services and Pax Christi USA normally create Advent reflections combining faith in action. You can also sign up for daily short videos or interactive reflections (produced by Dynamic Catholic and Busted Halo, among others).
• Go to confession. LifeTeen’s Laurie Medina writes that this sacrament allows you to make room for Jesus to truly touch you this Christmas. “Maybe all you can offer Him is a shabby stable with a dirt floor and a wooden trough filled with hay,” she says. “That’s OK, because we know He makes even the most pitiful and shameful of places beautiful. He will take whatever you can give Him.”
• Make a pilgrimage. Go to a local Marian shrine and have Our Lady be a companion on your journey to Christmas, or attend a retreat at a nearby parish.
• Give things up. Like Lent, Advent’s penitential practices allow us to grow in our faith. What’s keeping you from being the person God wants you to be? Stop and replace it with good habits this season.
• Listen to Advent music. Amid so many Christmas songs, this might be hard, but FOCUS gives you a list of tunes
(www.bit.ly/2QzZS9n) that fill your heart with anticipation and joy.
Our preparation and prayerful reflection also inspire us to focus on others instead of ourselves. Being thankful for God’s selfless gift reminds us to serve others.
• Give to others. Participate in parishes’ giving tree or adopt-a-family programs in which you can help children struggling financially, donate groceries (anonymously) to struggling families, assist an elderly neighbor with shopping, wrapping gifts or shoveling snow.
• Give time to others. Do you have a parishioner who is far from family and needs some extra help? Or busy parents who need a babysitter during this busy season? Check with others about their suggestions and offer to help.
• Go from awareness to action. Find out more about issues affecting the world, such as the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, climate change’s effects on people’s livelihoods and issues of violence and intolerance against vulnerable communities. Donate to trusted relief organizations.
• Get involved in community service. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or nursing home. Make gift bags for the homeless (nonperishable foods or toiletries) and drop them off at a local shelter.
• Find out community needs. Check with school, parish and local nonprofits and gather friends to take action addressing these needs.
The season of Advent is a good time to help us focus our minds and hearts on Christ instead of rushing into Christmas-mode. It might be challenging, but let yourself enter into that waiting. I hope your prayerful anticipation during Advent makes Christmas joyful and merry.
Negro Chin is bilingual associate editor at Maryknoll Magazine.