It’s normal to begin seeing some signs of Christmas coming as soon as the leaves start falling off the trees and the chill begins to move in. Though there are a few signs of Christmas as early as August (like the holiday collection at Hobby Lobby), most people usually hold off on their shopping list and home prep until at least after Thanksgiving.
This year, though, has seemed quite different. Though Thanksgiving has barely passed, many people I know began embracing Christmas much, much earlier than usual.
It’s clear our country needs a bit of a pick me up right now.
I think in the wake of the election, most people are dying for some hope and goodness to pour forth in our country. People are ready to experience the kind of spirit that the Christmas season brings about, where everyone is called to come together and celebrate the joy of giving and receiving, not just gifts, but one another’s company and companionship.
Yet, despite the great joy and happiness that comes in all that the Christmas season brings, all the details we enjoy so much this time of year (stockings, music, good food, twinkling lights, etc.) are merely glimmers of the profound depth that lies in the real meaning of Christmas. If all the focus is on all the fun before December 25th even hits, by the time Christmas actually rolls around people are more ready to pack it all up in their exhaustion of it, then bask in the joy of Jesus’ coming. If we celebrate too much before Christmas even arrives, we may end up missing the whole point of the Advent season.
Advent is the liturgical time in the Church (this year beginning on December 27th), which is set aside for us to reflect on the deep longing we all have for the coming of Christ. It is the time for contemplating three main things: the salvation history of the past, and how Jesus entered into our fallen and broken world offering redemption for mankind; how our redemption is being accomplished here-and-now, in and through Christ and his Church; and how we are still waiting in joyful anticipation for the future and final coming of Christ.
Though the time for hanging stockings, and playing Christmas music is imminent, it’s important to remember that Advent is a time specifically set aside for preparing our hearts and minds for his coming. It is the time for us to examine all the ways that we fail to recognize the great gift we are given in God’s love and call to communion, and through hopeful longing and joyful anticipation, submit ourselves to prayerful penance and spiritual preparation in order to make room for him in our hearts. Advent sums up and symbolizes our daily mission: to live our lives in gratitude for the gifts God has given us and daily prepare ourselves for what awaits us in eternity. Everything else—all pieces of happiness and joy that we experience on this earth and in this season—are merely a small impression and sharing in what we receive in the gift of his coming.
Our Church offers us ways of entering into this preparatory mindset through it’s liturgical practices (through special decorations, songs, and readings), but as you unpack your Christmas lights and start prepping your home, here are some tips for preparing your heart for Christ’s coming during this Advent season:
Spend some time each day during Advent praying with daily readings and reflections offered by the Church. There are some great ones out there like, “The Advent of Christ,” by Edward Sri, this Advent Journal by Blessed is She, and this Advent Companion which coincides with the Magnificat readings. This is such a special way to engage in the spirit of Advent, because these daily readings help focus your intent and guide your mind during the craziness of the season.
If you are excited about decorating your home for Christmas, decorate with the themes of Advent in mind. Place a Nativity Scene in your home, but leave out the baby Jesus until Christmas morning. Hang pictures like this and others that are thematic of our hopeful longing for the day of his coming. Save some of your best decorations commemorating the birth of the Lord to hang on the day of Christmas.
Count down the days leading up to Christmas with an Advent Wreath which marks each Sunday before Christmas, an Advent Calendar which offers daily prayers and gives reminders for the special days in Advent, or a Jesse Tree which guides you through the story of salvation leading up to the birth of Christ.
Since Advent is a time of preparation, it is considered to be a kind of “little lent” in the Church. Thus, fasting, doing penance, and giving alms are all great ways to prepare your heart for Christmas.
Confession is an important part of prepping for the Lord’s coming because it allows Him to draw us nearer to him and rid ourselves of all that separate us from him. Make time for reconciliation before Christmas to really prepare your heart to receive him with great joy.
Most people don’t connect fasting with the holiday season (the time of year we all gain a pound or two), but fasting is a great way to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christmas. What better way to share in Christ’s gift to us, than by offering up goods in preparation for his coming (be it food, habits, or something else you find yourself clinging to). Offering up these daily goods is a reminder that, no matter how wonderful earthly goods may be, they pale in comparison to the gift we receive in Christ. This manger activity is a great way for the whole family to fast and prepare for Christ together!
In the spirit of giving, Advent is a great time to practice spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy. Giving gifts to disadvantaged families and to those in need are both wonderful ways to prepare for the Lord. Volunteer your time, offering it to those in need, or invite people into your home who may feel isolated and lonely during the holidays.
As you prepare for Christmas by buying gifts and preparing your home, most importantly, remember to take this time to reflect on the gifts Christ has already given us and those he promises are yet to come.
Also, throughout this Advent season be sure to check back in! I will be posting special reflections on the Sunday Advent readings and special feast days during Advent. Hope you take the time to read!