There is one week until Christmas Eve, and my life feels cluttered, crammed, jammed, listed and scattered. Nine of my 10 children are home, but we haven’t stopped to have a meal or a story together yet, because the schedule grinds on. We have tickets to a show; two are in Baltimore for a run; and, tomorrow, we serve Mass and a friend is coming over, while another wants to take the car to go have brunch with her friends.   

It would be so much easier if the Advent wreath were electric, and there was no heat or glow to pull us closer into the light. We’d be able to breeze through the season and not allow ourselves to notice what we were missing. Fortunately, I have several children who love lighting the candles, which forces me to stay near to them and to be more present and less distracted. I have to guard against the flames, even as the flames are standing guard for me (whether I know it or not), keeping me from rushing on to the next thing.   

Four candles makes it hard to miss: The room is awash in light, and it doesn’t matter if there’s still so much to do. Right now, today, there is this to do: to be present at the table.  

So I sat thinking, “How do I make the most of what is left of Advent, not so I can get a gold star, but so I can witness the star? How do I make sure I am immersed in Advent, rather than racing toward Christmas?”

We have only a week left.  

It is not too late. That is the great truth of this season: You can start out like the Magi, or stumble into the stable like a shepherd. Either way, we are to reach the Divine destination, the Baby lying in the manger. We seek Jesus, and nothing less.   

How can we make the most of this last week of Advent?

(1) Get to confession. The Incarnation is God’s promise that we would not be abandoned to sin and death. We should seek to abandon sin and death in our own souls, even as we celebrate the only One who can free us from either.  

(2) The perfect gift is charity. Be generous with what you have. If you haven’t found the perfect gift for someone, donate in his or her name to a shelter or soup kitchen, or offer Masses for them. Give as St. Nicholas gave to those in need.  

(3) Light the Advent candles at every meal. It will force you to slow down and be vigilant with yourself and others. We moderns are not used to fires anymore, so the very wild realness of flames both quiets the spirit and heightens our awareness. It compels us to see, as an electronic display does not.  

(4) Keep the Scripture close at hand. Read it daily in your Bible or on the internet, or listen to it, but spend some time hearing the promises of old and their fulfillment. Keep holy writ near your Advent wreath, perhaps to read as part of each meal: Old Testament at breakfast, a Psalm at lunch, Acts at the afternoon snack, and the Gospel at dinner might be a way of breaking it down and making each time you gather to eat an opportunity to recall why we are doing all we are doing.  

(5) Come let us adore him. Go to adoration. Sing in your heart to the Lord. Recognize when you kneel or sit or stand before the Eucharist that you are imitating the shepherds and the Magi. This is what we are called to do, if we would truly celebrate the great gift of Christmas.   

Have a blessed last week of Advent!