Preparing for Advent

Who does not love Advent? The beauty of the liturgy, the haunting quality of the ancient chants we sing, the darkness, the silence, the mystery, they all combine to produce a sense of anticipation. Something very great and wonderful is about to happen. And then Christmas comes, and the mystery is revealed, and it is ‘only’ the birth of a child in awkward circumstances against a backdrop of political skullduggery and religious squabbling. The feast is barely here before most people seem to be taking down their Christmas decorations and thinking about holidays in the sun. I exaggerate, of course. Some of us do not begin to celebrate Christmas until the afternoon of Christmas Eve and will spend the octave looking at the mystery of the Incarnation and all that follows from it. Epiphany will burst upon us with its tria miracula, and only with the Baptism of the Lord will we formally say farewell to the Christmas season, with a last ‘look back’ at Candlemas. In the meantime, what do we do about Advent? How do we link this holy season with what comes after? How do we genuinely make it a time of preparation?

Advent sometimes gets passed over too lightly. Instead of seeing it as a way of deepening our understanding of the reality of what happened in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, it has often become drenched in sentimentality and superficiality — a kind of ‘Christmas already’ but without Christ. It is too early for mince pies and Christmas carols, but we tend to ignore the riches the Church sets before us and wonder why Christmas, when it does come, is almost an anti-climax. We are bored with the Christmas story before we have even heard it properly. We may need to remind ourselves that Advent is a time for reading and reflecting on the scriptures that provide the context for what happens on Christmas day, for asking ourselves what the coming of the Messiah means to us personally as well as to the world. It is a time for registering that disappointment and failure are part of the Christian story, that ordinariness is shot through with grace.

So, in these last few days before Advent begins, may I suggest spending a little time thinking about how to make the most of the season? It will be a busy time, with many demands made on us. We cannot avoid the commercialism that besets us on every side, but we can turn it to good by ensuring that our own focus is on what truly matters. To read each day the Mass lessons; to ‘waste’ a little time in silence and recollection if we can; to scale down our expectations; these are all tried and trusted means of ensuring Advent does its work in us. For that is the point. It is not what others do but what we do that makes Advent fruitful, that prepares us for the coming of our Saviour.

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9 thoughts on “Preparing for Advent”

  1. I love Advent: it is my favorite liturgical season. This year, things are pretty scrambled, though. My daughter is due to have baby #2 across the country from here—she’s near the Pacific about twenty miles below the Canadian border, and I’m in Massachusetts less than half a mile from the Atlantic. I’m due to fly out (horrors) sometime in the next two and a half weeks. Nevertheless, I am spending the run up to our Thanksgiving getting ready for the First Sunday of Advent, and with any luck may still be here on the Third Sunday. Of course, the blessing of child born near Christmas is not lost on me, so my brain is buzzing with a seemingly infinite to-do list and fervent prayers that all goes well. I have decided to put up a much-loved nativity set and a tree to come home to. My hope is that I will be safely home in time for Epiphany, with some quiet days and—another hope—thanks for a safe delivery and a happy family, an interior glow during the darkest days of winter.

    For many years, my “daily” calendar has taken second place to the time before, during, and after Advent, right through to Candlemas: my days are counted by the approach of Advent. I have my mother to thank for this: Advent was her favorite season, and I hope someday it is for my own girl and her family (who are mostly drift-aways, as so many of their generation are…).

    Today is freezing cold here, but a few garden chores will get done anyway, and then a few Thanksgiving chores, but after tomorrow, all attention goes to Advent preparation. It is a beautiful, beautiful time of year, in the short days with rosy amber twilights and the black silhouettes of trees against the deepening sky as the ground freezes hard and we head into winter.

    I have marked the Monastery’s page on Advent and read it faithfully:
    http://www.benedictinenuns.org.uk/Additions/Additions/advent.html

    I love the O Antiphons, so thank you very much, sisters! May your
    Advent bring blessed stillness to your hearts, great blessings at Christmas, and joy in the arrival of the Christ child.

    God bless all here on these pages!

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your looking forward – it was lovely to read something so joyful, and I hope everything goes well with the birth.

      I recently lost a pregnancy, and find myself rather confused with how to reconcile that with my faith. As I rather exasperatedly said to a friend of mine – there isn’t much in the Bible to help provide comfort is this precise situation!

      Except I just had a little giggle at myself, because so much of the Christmas story is about babies, is it? Elizabeth who thought she couldn’t have them, and Mary who must have truly given Joseph the shock of his life.

      I was fortunate enough to see my little blob on a scan – albeit with the heartbeat already gone – before the pregnancy ended. It’s left me with a very strong impression that new life – a new baby really us such an amazing and wonderful thing.

      Reply
  2. It doesn’t help, in some ways, to hear, “me, too” except that we who are a little ahead of you on this journey now walk beside you.

    I had a miscarriage many years ago, then my second child (the daughter who is now expecting), and then we lost our third child to a serious condition with many attendant complexities.

    What helped more than anything was the guidance of a woman whose vocation was looking after people like us—we who suffer pre-natal and neo-natal losses. Please, if you can, find the nearest grief after pre-natal loss help you can. The UK is better than we are at it, and when you are ready, can be so steadying.

    In the meantime, I think it is no accident that Our Lady’s first visit was to her cousin Elizabeth, the one once thought barren. She had her hopes fulfilled and was sought out by the Mother of the Lord of the Universe.

    We who walked your hard road and now walk alongside you keep you in our prayers at this Advent and Christmastide.

    With love,

    Anne

    Reply

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