Advent is around the corner. That means December 25th will be here before we know it.
If you’re like me, just thinking about this this makes you feel a bit anxious. “It’s hard enough for me to be ready for Christmas each year,” we think. “Trying to do a lot for Advent is overwhelming!”
To make things less overwhelming, give yourself a little prep time for Advent.
Now you may be thinking: “I thought Advent was a season of preparation? Why would I prepare for preparations?”
Preparing for Advent is important because there is a real urgency to this liturgical season:
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…Romans 13:11-12 (NRSVCE)
Many of us spend time preparing for Lent—deciding what we’re going “to give up” and so on. Advent deserves the same deliberation!
Here are five things we can do to prepare ourselves for a holy Advent.
1. Ask God to help you draw near to Him.
The more we yearn for Christ in Advent, the closer we come to a real celebration of Christmas.
Isn’t that a common fear we have during Advent? That Christmas will come like it always does and we will be no better for it?
There is much that might trouble our hearts this time of year: family issues, financial worries, the things we need to accomplish, etc. Where does Jesus fit in among these worries?
Deep down inside, we Catholics know that we have a chance for transformation during Advent—but we often forget to ask for it in prayer.
Let us ask God to help us prepare our hearts for His coming and to aid us in having a good and holy Advent.
After all, it is what He longs for for us, too.
2. Begin to practice silence.
We all recognize the constant whir of music, technology, ringing phones, beeping notifications, and loud conversations within our lives. They follow us everywhere we go.
We can point fingers of blame but often enough they will only end up pointing back at us. To live in this world is not only to exist amongst the noise but often to be that noise.
While I intuitively know that silence is essential, knowing it and living it are two different things.
The wisdom of God has generated in every person a great love that nourishes the little silence of the human heart.Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, No. 121
We all need silence in order to draw close to Our Lord. Silence is an essential component of a holy Advent.
If you are like me and you find it difficult to cultivate silence, just be intentional about it! Practice that essential silence now, if only for a few moments each day, perhaps adding one or two minutes every day until the start of Advent. When Advent comes, you will not be out of practice!
During this busy time of year, we must remind ourselves of our need for silence if we wish to hear what God has to say.
Nothing will make us discover God better than his silence inscribed in the center of our being. If we do not cultivate this silence, how can we find God?Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, No. 126
3. Gather your essential Advent items.
There have been times when the first Sunday of Advent comes and I find myself without candles for the Advent wreath. By the time I get them it is the second (or third!) week of Advent.
By thinking ahead now and putting together a list of Advent supplies, we can ensure we have the right supplies when we need them.
4. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
I remember a headline from last December that read: “Tis the Season For Unreasonable Expectations.” This can apply to Advent and to our spiritual selves, as well.
Although I just suggested that we prepare by getting Advent supplies early, I should also mention that how we prepare our homes is less important than how we prepare our hearts.
When my older children were young, I tried almost every Advent craft out there. In fact, I recall one year spending hours with the kids making Advent paper chains with Bible verses for each of the days of Advent. I did not inherit “the artistic gene,” so crafts at my house tend to be tedious—and this one was no different.
After we finally finished, I rewarded myself by making a pot of hot coffee, and as I leaned over to fill my mug, I tripped on our dog. The entire pot spilled onto the table and all over the newly-finished Advent project. Needless to say, the soggy paper chains were ruined (and I didn’t even get a sip of that sorely-needed coffee).
The truth is, we never missed those paper chains that Advent. We had spent the time making them together, writing the verses, and learning about the season of Advent—and we didn’t do all that just so we could have paper chains hanging around the house.
The point was to help us prepare our hearts. While I cherish all of our Advent traditions that I dig out every year—the Jesse Tree, Advent wreath, and nativity scenes that are well-worn and much-loved—none of them are essential. What is essential is that I try to draw closer to Christ during Advent, helping my family and those I love do the same.
Sometimes we worry needlessly about creating the perfect season for those around us, but the true purpose of any of our Advent customs (even those we never finish) is to “draw us into the mysteries of God.” If we can recall this now, we will be less susceptible to the stress of the coming season.
One bit of advice I learned from an older and wiser friend is that sometimes it is more important for me to take time out for God than for me to teach my children about Him. This can be difficult for parents because we desire a rich experience for our children, but I know that when I am drawing closer to Our Lord, I will be better able to reflect Him to my children and to others.
Advent, while it is a beautiful season to share with our family, specifically calls us as individuals to spend time alone with God.
5. Prepare for a good confession now.
The Church calls us to repentance during Advent, making it an important time to go to confession. Perhaps getting yourself and your family to confession can be your top priority this Advent.
You can prepare yourself for the sacrament now. Readying ourselves for a good confession is as important as going to confession. Without proper preparation, we can miss those sins and imperfections that we should bring to Our Lord or we can rush through the sacrament. I once heard a priest say that the best thing about making a good confession is that it will help us to realize how much we are in need of a Savior!
A recent conversation I had with a few other moms helped me realize how much I am in need of a Savior. The conversation started benignly. We were discussing an organization our kids were involved in. Soon there was a “subtly unkind” word said about one of the people in charge of this organization. Then another mention was made in a “subtly uncharitable” way. Before long, these “subtle” references gave way to a flood of indictments. I wish I could say that I had kept my mouth shut.
In the end, we recognized what had just occurred, and agreed that we felt ashamed about things that were said.
Regardless of how subtle we are, or how simply things can start, sin is sin and we all fall short at times. The truth is that, while I regret my involvement, I am grateful for what that conversation led to. It is our sinfulness that brings us face to face with a true longing for the Messiah.
We will not truly appreciate the love of Jesus Christ, who came to rescue us, unless we recognize our inability to save ourselves. Only when we recognize our helplessness will we realize our need for the Messiah.Genevieve Cunningham, Great Advent, “Realizing Our Need for the Messiah”
Advent is this important time of year when we should recall our great need for Jesus. If we don’t recognize that we are sinners in need of a savior, what is it that we are longing for during the season of Advent?
Some Advent Prayers
One of the things we can gather before Advent begins are daily prayers to say. Here are a few Advent prayers for use before or during this beautiful liturgical season:
All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
All-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The St. Andrew Christmas Novena, to be recited fifteen times a day from the Feast of St. Andrew, November 30th, to December 24th:
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.