Advent comes from the Latin word, “adventus,” which means “coming.” Jesus is coming, we know, and there is much to do! But life can be intensely stressful, noisy, and draining, especially when we are caught up in the material demands of the Christmas season.In the race for the perfect gifts, decorations, foods, and cards, we can easily forget something central to our faith: that the richness and depth of the color purple that adorns our Advent liturgies is a reminder to us to atone for sin and open our hearts in more trust, more purity, and more love to the Infant Jesus. It is He who comes into the world and into our hearts to save us (John 3:16). Being ready for him takes an attentive and humble heart.
Here are three easy ways to weed out unnecessary distractions and plant our hearts firmly in Advent:
1. Give away your stuff:
Many charities will come right to your house or apartment building, pick up your boxes and bags full of giveaways, and leave you a tax-receipt, making it extremely easy to clear out closets, book cases, and cupboards–to bless someone else with your plentiful belongings. Gently-used clothing, housewares, books, toys, costumes, knickknacks, artwork, crafting supplies, unused office supplies, and almost anything else that is still in good condition can touch the lives of others less fortunate, while the charity truck gives us the clutter-free environment we long for.
It is a spiritual truth that we have to clean out our hearts to receive Jesus more fully (more on that, soon). Let’s clean out our homes and unburden ourselves from the guilt and stress of useless clutter. Just as Jesus can transform a heart open to his love, He can transform our homes into sanctuaries of of peace and simplicity.
2. Pop the question:What are your family’s favorite Advent and Christmas traditions? If you’ve never asked them, you’ll be amazed at the answers. While you’ve been slaving to duplicate every household display, every traditional recipe, and chase down the perfect Christmas cards, surprises, and gatherings, your family has been secretly waiting for just one or two moments to arrive.
Each person has a touchstone, a particular event or practice that says, “Christmas joy” more than anything else. For me, it’s caroling and decorating our tree. For our daughter, it’s Christmas brunch and opening presents with Grandma. For my husband, it’s a Christmas Eve celebration with old friends. Knowing that these are the most important touchstones for my family helps me to discard anything that simply adds to our busyness and stress. It simplifies our lives and takes away that feeling of having to “do it all” before it’s too late. It also minimizes the let-down after Christmas–that feeling that you worked yourself to death for an experience that faded within hours.
3. Prepare spiritually:
- Get to confession more regularly!
Oh, joy, right? I’m laughing because Reconciliation is the sacrament that people avoid like the plague, when it is precisely the pathway to joy that we all need. When we leave our little sins unconfessed, we become comfortable with them, and they weaken us spiritually, making it easier to commit more serious sins. We also block the graces that Jesus longs to pour into our hearts in Holy Communion.
C. S. Lewis wrote, in a collection of his essays called, The Weight of Glory, that the sins we cling to are the “dead places” in our hearts. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If we block the Lord of Life from entering certain areas of our lives, then those are dead places.
If we want our lives healed, if we want to grow in virtue, if we crave joy and intimacy with God, it’s critical that we get to confession. The Holy Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, and His power to heal us is infinite; however, Jesus is a gentleman and never forces himself into our hearts, so we must prepare–and make room for him in the inn, so to speak. It is only then that He can pour the graces needed to free us from attachment to sin, heal us from the wounds of our past, and bring us into lives of great freedom and fulfillment.
You see a priest in the confessional and hear the words of absolution from another human being, and that may seem awkward and embarrassing, but what is really happening is an astonishingly beautiful encounter: it is Jesus who forgives, absolves, and heals through the words and actions of the priest. Do not miss this precious and life-changing encounter with God!
Here are some resources for making a solid examination of conscience before confessing your sins:
The Sacrament of New Beginnings, of Freedom! (includes a wonderful short video)
The Ten Commandments (article from Our Sunday Visitor about the “yes” behind every “no” in God’s laws)
- Choose a meditation for the four weeks of Advent:
(HINT: I love all of these but usually only try to do one at a time)
- Advent With Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations, by Heidi Hess Saxton
- Brief, beautifully-written daily meditations have a freshness and inspirational quality I have not found in other daily prayer guides. Highly recommended.
- The St. Andrew Christmas Novena
- This traditional prayer honors the first Apostle called by Jesus, St. Andrew. Pray this short prayer 15 times daily throughout Advent for a special intention (many graces will follow):Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.
- Simply “hold” the Baby Jesus to your heart.
- One year I was stressed and distracted and had no “Christmas spirit” at all, so I asked Jesus for help. A vivid and tender image came to me of the Infant Jesus in the manger, and I bent to gather the sweet Child into my arms. From that moment on, just the thought of cradling the Baby against my shoulder and holding him close brought me to a quiet, reverent, and joyful place in the privacy of my heart. Christmas Eve mass and Christmas day were extraordinarily meaningful, that year.
- Pray with the children in your life, every day.
- Here’s an excerpt of Week 20: Christmas, from my new book, Heads Bowed: Prayers for Catholic School Days:
God, when I think about Jesus coming to earth, I realize the he must love each of us very much. Jesus is God and can do anything he wants to, but he chose to become a helpless baby born to poor parents, to teach us that love is what makes us rich. Remind us that when his mother laid him in a manger that animals eat out of, Jesus was already teaching the world that he would one day become our spiritual food. Amen.
UPDATE: Here’s the prayer I shared on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air show, today:
Also from Week 20: Christmas, from my new book, Heads Bowed: Prayers for Catholic School Days:
Holy Spirit, you brought Jesus to earth through your divine power. Thank you for giving us the best Christmas gift of all. Our Lord Jesus is a gift beyond price. Inspire us, O Lord, to love the Baby Jesus and carry him in our hearts at all times. When we fail, give us the grace to return to Jesus and confess our sins, since he always loves us, no matter what. Praise be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have a very peaceful, beautiful, and holy Advent!