This Advent, Begin With the Sacraments, and Persist in the Peace of Christ

“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.” (CCC 524)

Palma Vecchio, “Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Magdalene,” c. 1521
Palma Vecchio, “Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Magdalene,” c. 1521

If you think about it, in some ways, Advent really begins March 25, because the joyful waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled in all its fullness began with Mary’s “Yes.” Since March 12, we have also been in a long Advent of sorts, waiting in joyful hope for an end to this pandemic. We’ve lived in the darkness of not knowing, but of hoping that the risks of this disease would be lifted.

In my neighborhood — my own house included — people have shown they’re eager for the long dark season to be over. Most of the houses have large light displays and are adding to them daily. We want the joy of Christmas — of giving, of delight, of light and of the hope that comes with living the Advent season both interiorly and externally. Our faith teaches us how to cultivate an Advent heart.

Here’s how: Begin with the sacraments. Get yourself to confession to start these four weeks — they’ll go by fast. Make it your plan for this week, as part of making room in the inn of your soul. Naturally, the traditions of this season, like the Advent wreath and candles, help quiet what could otherwise be a cluttered time. As a young mother, my Aunt Marjo counseled me to learn to like hot tea, and only in a pretty china cup, so I’d have to be still for approximately 20 minutes. “You can’t rush when you’re drinking hot tea,” she explained. I haven’t quite mastered this truth, but lighting the candles reminds me of her counsel, because you can’t rush around fire. You must be still. That’s the trick of Advent in a nutshell. Learning to be still and know Christ is here. 

To further quiet your soul, cultivate that stillness. Stillness when the world says more, more and still more, is a willed experience. The easiest way to find yourself quiet before God is through Adoration. Consider making a deliberate pilgrimage, if possible every day, to see Jesus — to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And “Thank you.” And to imitate the angels by adoring him.

Advent is a time of joyful waiting, of anticipation. We sometimes forget that, because of how the world celebrates Christmas. A good friend of mine has a family tradition of moving the three kings all around the house so that they arrive at the stable on the feast of the Epiphany — and it helps to remind everyone, as the kings travel around the house, of the process day-by-day. It is again a means by which we can reconnect with the purpose of this beautiful time of joyful waiting. The reality is that we need these four weeks to help prepare our souls for the Incarnation, so that when we make it to Dec. 25, we will sing “Joy to the World” with the fullest of hearts.

Yet another way to silence the busyness of the soul is to fast. Denying one’s self, observing the penitential character of the season, will keep you anchored on the feast to come. The brightest star in the heavens appeared in the darkest season, as Christ came in our lives and offers, even now, to rid our souls of sin. Our fasting is the darkness in anticipation of the feast.

Choosing the better portion isn’t easy when we all have to-do lists that layer on top of all the ordinary parts of life and COVID-19. There’s another sure method of ensuring we don’t lose sight of the Christ Child’s coming in the midst of everything. Tithe your giving. Whatever you give for others, allocate 10% as a gift to the needy. It’s a way of reminding yourself to act like the three kings in the presence of the Holy Family. Tithe your time. Whatever you spend shopping, spend at least 10% of that in charity. Whatever time you spend decorating, spend 10% of that time in prayer in praise and thanksgiving. Tithe your life by doing little things with great love, so that even the ordinary — like making dinner, decorating the house, writing cards — isn’t done as a have-to-do, but as a want-to-give.

Finally, celebrate Advent always by remembering you are neither merely the wick or the wax. You are the means by which Christ is felt and Christ is seen.