Saturday, December 1, 2007

Reflections on Advent

I have been reading and praying a lot lately about Advent. I have a lot of time on my hands right now since I'm supposed to be off my feet resting my back. (But that's another story and not worth telling. Just pray that my sanity and my family survive this whole resting thing.)
Anyway, about Advent, everyone that I talk to and every thing that I read is focused on avoiding the "commercialism" and "worldliness" of the rest of society. All around me I see others trying to make Christmas more sacred and more focused on it's true meaning. But very few talk about the blessed season that leads up to the celebration. As with any party or celebration there is a period of preparation that comes before. As any host or hostess knows, before throwing a party or any gathering, much planning and reflection goes into the party before she even takes the first step in executing the preparations.
Advent should be thought of in the same way. Week by week we should not only prepare ourselves materially but spiritually for the celebration that comes at the beginning of the season. Many people also make the mistake of thinking of Christmas as the end of the Advent season when it is actually the beginning of its own season.
I recently visited a blog sight of a woman who publishes excellent resources for Catholic homeschoolers and she broke the season of Advent down in an interesting way. If I may take quote her here.
week one: decoration and preparation
week two: giving and the symbolism of Santa Claus and reality of St. Nick
week three: family, Hannukah (because Jesus was Jewish and we don't want to forget
week four: nativity, angels, epiphany

Now this is an interesting and useful way of breaking down Advent and very useful. And I believe that she uses this breakdown for her new book Christmas Mosiac which I have ordered but have not used yet. And my purpose here is not a criticism of this woman or her book because I think she is quite talented. But rather my own analysis of Advent and a reordering of my familys observance of the season since my children are older and the counting down thing is no longer appropriate.
Then in my reflection I read in my recent Magnificat their treatment of Advent and a light went on in my head. If I may quote (and please forgive the length of the quote but I think that those who have hung on this long will find it all as enlightening as I did) "Advent is like this. We know our heart is waiting for someone in whom we will ding all the fulfillment and meaning we lack in our life. But Christmas does not happen instantaneously. Gradually, we are untroduced and come to know the One who comes to save us from our fragility. The Advent journey is that sequence of graced "confirmations" that readies us for the One who the night before he dies, will call us "Friend."
"These confirmations appear in the Scriptures that lead up to the Christmas manger. On the first Sunday of Advent, the prophet Isaiah promises that the Word of the Lord will come forth from Jerusalem so that "he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." In speaking this way, Isaiah shows how much he knows our need. He realizes that we will respond to someone who comes into our life with something significant to say-someone who understands our predicament of being confused at times, sorely in need of education... someone who recognizes how lost and aimless we are when deprived of a sure path to follow. If such a One truly is coming, then, yes, we will respond-we will give him our attention."
There is more of course but I need not quote it all here. Suffice it to say it got me to thinking that Advent is similar to Lent in the reverse. While Lent is more a penitential season and yes we should be making penances during Advent, it should be more a season of increasing rejoices for lack of a better way to say it. Building up to the greatest rejoice of all, the birth of Our Lord on Christmas. But the rejoices should not be to our benefit but for others.
So this is what I have proposed for my family. Instead of an Advent calendar where we open the door each day and read the bible verse and count down the days until Christmas, wonderful things to do but I think that we have all outgrown these activities. Instead we should be counting up, counting our increased activities to benefit our fellow man and laying them before the babe as a gift for Him on His birthday. We are now looking for things to do to help others in our community and in our family to count our way up to the birth of Our Lord.
Because of our little setbacks this year we have already promised not to give each other gifts but still the sacrifice can be made to give gifts to others in the form of the giving tree at church. Plans are being made to make homemade gifts for certain charities in the community. Other things have been suggested by my children of things that we can do not only with money (which I consider easy and impersonal) but also with our time and of ourselves. And to steal another idea of a friend we are fashioning each act into a chain which will grace our Christmas tree this year. Not only will this benefit those around us but the hope is that we will build up treasure in heaven.
Then when the real celebration starts we will have made such preparation that we will be worthy to host the Lord of Lords and King of Kings into not only our hearts but also into our home.

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