Advent began yesterday in a soft and glorious manner. The children called us to worship with their song and the family of faith looked on as Hope lit up the sanctuary. It is here. The season of watching and waiting is finally here.
Advent pasts have looked quite different than this one in the Coyle-Carr house. Until now, at least one of us has faced down finals and term papers ‘til Gaudete Sunday three weeks in. This time around, though, graduate days are behind us and a bump swells before us day by day.
Our family is changing and growing, as is its expression of vocation and faithful living. We are seeing things in new lights and from new angles. There is a stirring in our bones even as we feel the most at home yet.
I do feel rooted. My feet can almost find their way around here. I technically became a Texan last Friday.
And here comes Advent.
Aaron and I have talked a lot about how we would keep Advent this year. It is not until now that I realize the connection between the changes in our life and this need to attend to Advent differently, or, at least, decidedly.
My planning has run between manic and magic, to be honest. In some moments I feel excited about the liturgical gift. How lucky we are to inherit traditions from our faithful ancestors! What a blessing it is to try the paths our sisters and brothers have trod.
Other times I feel weighted by the cultural pressure. To make the holidays happen. To pick the most meaningful traditions. To do it right.
As I worked through the gospel text for Advent 1 last week, I wrestled with Christ’s imploring words:
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that the day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of [Humanity].” (Luke 21:34-36)
And something clicked.
Jesus teaches that waiting for him is not a rat race that leads to dissipation. It is not glutted laissez faire that leads to drunkenness. It is not even a test of our faithfulness (which would lead me to the worst experience of anxiety that I could imagine).
It is, rather, the opposite: balanced, attentive, and filled with prayer.
Perhaps Advent can follow suit.
Our forbearers created Advent—indeed, the entire liturgical calendar—to help us practice our faith in the returning Savior. We do not make Jesus happen. The point is that he is coming. Somehow I feel that I can trust these holidays to come too.
God wants us to enjoy this waiting and watching that is the Christian life, hence the warning. Surely she wants us to enjoy this special holiday season as well.
Now, brass tacks, if I started trying to make Christmas happen today I would be “dissipated”—absolutely SICK of it—by December 25. If I started with eggnog and sentimentality now I would be drunk and sated with it even sooner. And if I started trying to make a Hallmark Movie happen instead of waiting for Emmanuel I would be anxiously worried and sorely disappointed.
Jesus warns his disciples not to gorge themselves on the cheap stuff, but to wait for him—be alert at all times and watch for the signs of that which he has promised to deliver:
Himself, like never before.
How we’ll Advent this year:
Instead of sinking into dissipation, drunkenness, and the worries of this world, we want to seek balance, be attentive, and relish prayer.
In order to seek balance we will:
Feast and fast respectively. Feast on Sundays and feast days and fast from deserts and sweet drinks the rest of the time. We will focus on especially wholesome, simple, and home-cooked meals until Christmas (and its 12 feast days in a row!).
Receive hospitality. We will Christmas party with those who Christmas party. A rigid Advent approach would eliminate those opportunities, or at least cast a shadow on them. A balanced Advent for us means welcoming others’ joy and expressions of love!
Savor the process of preparation. We want to be active, but not rushed in the gathering of gifts, decking of halls, and baking of decadence.
We’ll bake methodically, usually on Sundays, and store the goodies in the freezer for Christmas.
We’ll also enjoy gradually decorating the house: tree’s up with lights now, but we’re saving the ornaments for a special Sunday night; the nativity scene’s gonna be out, but the magi will travel all during Christmas in order to arrive at the nativity on Epiphany, etc.
Consider redistribution. As we clean and prepare for Christmas we will take stock of our possessions—do we need all this stuff?—and redistribute to charity stores, etc., as seems fitting. We will also assess our budget to make sure we are allocating our resources in ways that are fair and responsible.
In order to practice attentiveness we will:
Look for ways to welcome Jesus in the day to day. See him in the postal worker, the friend on the corner, the harried customer service provider, and the dear ones we love. This looks like remembering peoples’ precious humanity, inviting folks to supper, and practicing random acts of kindness.
Not let the holidays be an excuse to neglect our hearts and emotional well-being. We will check in with ourselves and one another intentionally and regularly. How are you really doing?
Turn off the TV. We won’t eschew the screen for the entirety of Advent, but we will choose carefully when and what we watch. We will choose more time for games, gift crafting, hospitality, walks around the neighborhood, and conversation over another episode of…what were we watching again?
In order to relish prayer we will:
Gather around the Advent wreath, embracing the beautiful symbol of Advent’s cyclical and mystical nature. We’ll light a new candle each Sunday, rekindling the light each night around the supper table.
Join in daily Morning Prayer.
Listen to Advent hymns and carols. Some of the most beautiful pieces are the ones not blaring from the radio. Here’s our favorite playlist from Sacred Ordinary Days:
Welcome the saints. St. Nicholas (12/6) and St. Lucy (12/13), along with their legends, invite us deeper into the heart of God. We will remember their stories on their feast days, allow them to turn our eyes toward Jesus, and notice the little whispers of Christmas that they bring to the day.
Pray the O Antiphons with Mary nightly from December 17 to Christmas Eve. How-to post forthcoming. Here’s a photo from two years ago and the Wikipedia article for now.
Embrace our favorite spiritual practices: coloring, walking, yoga, spiritual reading, playing with LEGOS, making music, letter-writing, etc.
Pray through our Christmas cards. Our neighbors compile the Christmas cards their family receives each year into a flip book. Every night until next Christmas they pray for a family from the book. I LOVE this idea. We’ll do this as we receive cards throughout the season.
Participate in our faith community. We are lucky to belong to a supportive and discerning church community here at Wilshire Baptist that keeps us prayed up and emboldened for service. Our sisters and brothers here will help us sink deeper into communion with God and one another this season as we gather for study, worship, and fun.