And just like that, the Advent season is among us. Before you know it, Christmas will be here. Of course, by the looks of the house across the street (the house that never took their Christmas decorations down from last year), one might think that every day was Christmas! And don’t get me started on retail. Santa was at the mall before the Halloween candy was digested. It appears the rush to get into the Christmas spirit is happening earlier and earlier, sooner and sooner, faster and faster.
And I am not a fan of this.
It’s not that I don’t have any Christmas spirit, or that I have a problem with premature Christmas decorating. I really don’t. If pulling out a box of vintage ornaments in November makes you happy, by all means, go for it. What I do have a problem with is approaching Advent as if it were a 24 day countdown, running ourselves ragged as we run from store to store, party to party. What bothers me is how easily we’ve turned Advent into a season of stress and anxiety; worrying about all the things that need to get done and how on earth are we going to afford it all. What was once a prayerful journey through darkness to light has now become a marathon sprint to the finish line with a peppermint martini in hand. Is it just me, or have we forgotten what Advent is all about?
I don’t know exactly when this happened, but somewhere along the line we got it all mixed up. We took the peaceful days that lead up to the birth of our Savior, and replaced its simplicity with chaos. Then we took the 12 days of Christmas, and reduced it to a single day by packing up the ornaments, taking down the tree, and boxing up the nativity all on the 26th. See ya next Christmas, baby Jesus!
In his book, Rejoice! Advent Meditations With Mary, Father Mark Toups reminds us what Advent is all about.
“The secular Christmas season we find ourselves in is anything but small, simple, and slow. In fact, for many of us, the pace of life accelerates as Christmas nears. There are presents to buy, parties to attend, and holidays to plan. As the world around us sprints into frenzy, Advent actually invites us to slow down. Just as Nazareth’s pace formed the heart of the Mother of God, Mary wants to slow us down so that we can receive as she did. So, slow down. Get quiet. Listen. After all, what’s the rush?”(1)
I want to slow down. I want to take off my Christmas running shoes and walk through this Advent peacefully, with Mary, away from Target and towards the stable. I want to trade anxiety for simplicity. Chaos for calm. I want to prepare my heart and make it a manger, ready to receive the infant Christ.
If a peaceful heart and home is what we desire this Advent, we need to rightly order our days. In his Magnificat reflection, Bishop Baron writes, “Whenever God is given highest value, order is established both within the worshiper and in the society that surrounds him or her…Consequently, trouble comes from incorrectly directed praise…if you want peace, get your worship rightly ordered.”(2)
Makes you wonder. What am I worshiping?
It’s as simple as asking yourself that question. Personally, I am tired of waking up Christmas morning, exhausted because I just spent the last 24 days worshiping all the wrong things, only to feel like once again, I missed it. If you can relate to any of this at all, I want you to know…I am reclaiming Advent. The world can have its secular holiday celebration with its Elf on the Shelf and Pinterest charcuterie boards.
I am putting things in their right place and taking back this holy season. Here’s how:
- I will protect my daily Mass/quiet prayer time. It is amazing how easily I can convince myself during Advent that there is way too much to get done, and I work best first thing in the morning, so clearly, Mass and/or prayer has got to go! Listen up: God first. Christmas errands second. PERIOD.
- I will not stress about fitting in every holiday tradition during Advent, and instead, I will take advantage of the 12 days of Christmas. If I want to gather friends over for a toast to Jesus, we can do that after Christmas day! If I want to enjoy sitting down and writing out Christmas cards with a pot of coffee, I can do that after Christmas day! We can party all the way to the Epiphany, folks!
- I will embrace the darkness. For too long I thought that a good Christmas was a perfect Christmas, and perfect meant no troubles, no problems, no sorrow. But now I know that’s not true. Peace is possible despite our circumstances, and nothing proves that truth better than the manger. Remember, you need the darkness to see the light.
Advent is meant to be a season of preparation—not celebration. It’s time we get our worship rightly ordered. There’s a baby about to be born: The King of Peace. You won’t want to miss him.
(1) Father Mark Toups, Rejoice! Advent Meditations With Mary, (Ascension Press, 2018), 7.
(2) Bishop Baron, “A Light Unto My Path,” Magnificat, December 2019, 22.