By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
At what is arguably the busiest time of the year for us, our church comes up with one more thing for which we’re told we must be mindful. Advent.
This year it begins this Sunday, Dec. 3, and continues right up through Dec. 24 – Christmas Eve, for God’s sake.
As if we had time for anything else this time of the year, our church asks us to put aside four whole weeks to prepare for the birth of our savior.
For many of us, putting aside four minutes may seem to be asking too much.
I know. I was one of these people not so long ago.
I pretty much ignored Advent for a good number of years. There was even a time when I’d get Advent and Lent mixed up. Yup, one came before Christmas and the other before Easter. But which did which I could not say for sure without stopping to think about it. And who had time for that?
New eyes to see
These days I see it differently. I welcome Advent. But I confess it took a lot of years – and many good influences in my life.
My wife deserves the most – and first – credit. She decided our children would benefit from us getting and using an Advent wreath. It was a simple setup. We would light a candle each Sunday night from the first through fourth weeks of Advent and read a short reflection with a passage from scripture. The wreath came with reflections, and our parish offered some too.
With little children just learning their prayers, it helped engage them to say a simple prayer together and then also say grace together. As long as I live, I will never forget the wonder and the candlelight reflections in their eyes.
So I have to give our five children credit for helping me appreciate the gift of Advent. And that credit is now reinforced by the sparkle in the eyes of our grandchildren as they reflect the candlelight.
It has also been inspiring to see how Advent calendars have helped all of us focus on “the reason for the season” – as well as some special treats on occasion.
Acknowledging St. Nick
Speaking of treats, there’s no sin in making room in our Advent observations for St. Nicholas, whose feast is observed Dec. 6. After a few visits from St. Nick, whose generous heart always expressed itself with a little candy, our children remembered the day even when we were so preoccupied we would otherwise have forgotten it.
The history and mythology surrounding St. Nick opens up a host of opportunities to remind ourselves and others of the power and joy of generosity. If you’re planning on assisting a needy family this Christmas – and why not? – connecting it to the loving example of St. Nick can make the effort more meaningful and gratifying for everyone.
A confession: not an obsession
I do want to make a confession: Advent is not a 24/7 obsession for me. It’s something to embrace at Sunday Mass, the Sunday dinner table, in those fleeting moments behind the wheel or in the shower, and again for a moment in the morning when I rise, and finally in the evening when I retire.
In those moments it helps me reflect on the theme for each week:
- hope (week one),
- peace (week two),
- joy (week three) and
- love (week four).
And frankly, just calling Advent to mind brings me a bit of mental peace as I wade through all the lists, chores and details that threaten to drag me down as Christmas approaches.
So at the end of the day – as surely as at the end of the season – I don’t experience Advent as just one more thing I’ve got to do.
Instead, I experience it as a quiet place in my heart, rather like a manger, that grows a little each day as Christmas approaches – a place I return to briefly again and again, looking to find ever more room for my Lord and Savior.
Come, oh come, Emmanuel.