Advent: A gift for the opening
It’s hard isn’t it? We get to December, and even though our intentions are good, other things seem to get in the way of our spiritual preparation for Christmas. So often Christmas gets hijacked by the commercialisation of the event and all those jobs we feel compelled to get done before the year ends. I think this mad rush is heightened in the southern hemisphere because for many, Christmas heralds in the start of our summer holidays. More planning, more money, more people to please. You know the story!
But does it have to be like this? Is there something not quite right when you get to Christmas Mass, the children all looking shiny, the crib ready to receive the baby Jesus, and all you can think is – what happened to Advent? I’ve certainly had that feeling. But as I’ve got a little older, I’ve tried a little harder not to let Advent pass me by.
There is, of course, the external preparations. We do our best at home to get the Christmas tree and the Advent wreath decorated on the first Sunday of Advent – sometimes tricky when you have two family birthdays in December. But still, we try. We are blessed in our parish to have a very active St Vincent de Paul Society who make it very easy for us to donate gifts and Christmas fare to those who cannot afford them. And our parish goes to great effort to make sure all the signs and symbols are there to accompany us as we journey to Christmas day.
While these are all excellent ways to prepare for Christmas, I’ve discovered the joy of doing some internal preparation as well. What does this mean? Well, for me it means intentionally retreating to a quiet space, even if it is just for one hour. I take with me some spiritual reading or reflections – there are so many available now through the internet and several dioceses produce some beautiful resources. My preference is to head out into the beautiful bush tracks near my home and I find a place to sit and reflect on the readings and on God’s gift of creation. It is in this silence that I can let my own voice be still and make space for God’s voice.
I also get myself to the sacrament of Reconciliation. In my preparation for the sacrament, one of the areas I focus on is where I have failed in my relationships with family, friends and work colleagues. I know I have plenty of other failings (!) but I find getting this area of my life sorted out leads to a more peaceful heart in the lead up to Christmas.
Advent is a time of waiting, of expectation as we prepare to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, our God and Saviour. Advent is a gift – and it is ours for the opening if we so choose.
• Sharon Brewer is the Formation Co-ordinator for the National Centre for Evangelisation and the Catholic Enquiry Centre