HOW ABOUT A LITTLE REFRESHER COURSE?: Since we have seen Christmas decorations in the stores since October, sometimes it is good to remember why we have the traditions we celebrate in the Church. Advent is the period of four Sundays and weeks before. The word Advent means ‘Coming’ in Latin (adventus). This is the coming of Jesus into the world. Christians are encouraged to use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas.
There are three meanings of ‘coming’ that we Catholics celebrate in Advent. The first, and most thought of, happened 2000 years ago when Jesus came into the world as a baby to live as a man and die for us. The second can happen now as Jesus wants to come into our lives at this very moment. And the third will happen in the future when Jesus comes back to the world as King and Judge, not a baby. While the readings at Mass for the first couple weeks celebrate the third meaning, and the readings then move to the first meaning as we get closer to the 25th, the second meaning can often be neglected.
Avoiding the commercialization of Christmas can be a real challenge. For Catholics, the liturgical season of Advent helps us focus on the spiritual preparation for Christmas and on the coming of Our Lord. It is not too late! So here are some suggestions to prepare for Christmas and help us invite Jesus into our hearts now.
First, purchase/make an Advent wreath. The wreath is a circle, which has no beginning or end: God is eternal, and His love for us is everlasting. The wreath is made of fresh plant material, because Christ came to give us new, everlasting life through His passion, death and resurrection. Three candles are purple, symbolizing penance, preparation and sacrifice; the pink candle symbolizes the same but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice because our preparation is now half-way finished and Christ will soon come. The light represents Christ, who entered this world to scatter the darkness of evil and show us the way of righteousness. The progression of lighting candles shows our increasing readiness to meet Our Lord. Make the Advent wreath the centerpiece of the dinner table. Light it at dinner time, and incorporate scripture along with grace before meals. This daily practice will help each member of the family keep focused on the true meaning of Christmas
Second, pray. Hopefully prayer already a part of your daily routine, but if not, make it one. Schedule a regular time for prayer. My best prayer time is early in the morn (before the world gets up). Visually go into the stable with the Holy Family, or sit before your manger scene. Also, pray the rosary, individually or as a family. Ponder the various events in the life of Our Lord, and the example of Mary, “the handmaid of the Lord,” who gave of herself to receive the gift of the Savior. For little children, who have a shorter attention span, maybe just pray a decade each night, looking at one mystery; over the four weeks of Advent, all the mysteries will have been prayed.
Finally, take the time for confession. That is why we are offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation before Mass at all three parishes on the first Sunday of the month. Do a thorough examination of conscience. If it has been a while since the last confession, do not worry, the priest will walk you through it gently. It may help you to find a good examination of conscience, and over the course of the week — praying for help from the Holy Spirit — write down those sins that come to mind. Bring that examination to confession, receive absolution, and do the prescribed penance.
There are a zillion and one other ways for you and your family to prepare for Jesus’ Advent. Be creative, make your own tradition. But, believe me, your Christmas will be so much better, happier, more joyful and meaningful, if you “prepare!”