I haven't even stuffed my Thanksgiving turkey, let alone my stockings, but somehow I feel like I'm already behind. Overbooked. Overwhelmed. By the time Christmas finally arrives, I'm afraid I'll be "over it"!
What ever happened to Advent anyway? It's Funny. Like hooking up and moving in before marriage, we seem to have, as a culture, just decided not to wait. Delayed gratification? Ha! Never. It's sad, really, because anticipation is half the fun of anything. Dreaming, planning, pondering...all these things in your heart. Yes, lack of willingness to wait is a loss.
Historically, Advent is more than a time of count down anticipation or preparation armed with gift wrap. Advent was, and is within the church, a time of preparation, waiting for the coming of the Lord both at Christmas and His future return at the end of time. Traditionally it was also a penitential time, a time for fasting, almost like Lent. In fact, sometimes churches still use purple as the liturgical color for Advent, just like Lent. In her book Around the Year, Maria VonTrapp notes that in her home not even a Christmas cookie was nibbled before Christmas Eve - and even then not until after church.
The irony is irresistible. Look at a magazine cover or flip on the TV and you'll be pressured to "Drop 10lbs Before the Holidays", "Slim down for Santa", or "Lose the Jiggle in Time for the Jingle". (OK, I made the last two up, but seriously!) Deny yourself and reflect on every pound, calorie, and carb. That's a diet. Deny yourself and reflect on Christ, His Word, His Sacrament - given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. That's a fast.
Truthfully, I really don't know how to keep Advent. Make your list, check it twice, then buy, wrap, and pack. There's baking, frosting, cooking, cleaning, and polishing. Don't forget decorating and tree trimming, shoe shining, pressing and wardrobing. Programs, parades, and parties - even some with manufactured snow! Oh, and the cards! I always forget those Christmas cards! It's no wonder we are exhausted by the time Christmas finally arrives! Although I thoroughly enjoy it, except addressing those cards (!), it leaves little time for silent nights of quiet reflection when the Holy Spirit melts the heart allowing us to begin to comprehend the wonder of the season - that God lowered himself to become man - fully knowing that He was born to die. Born to die - for my selfishness, my thoughtlessness, my to-do lists that placed all this "stuff" before Him.
|Adelae sledding down faux snow in Naples, FL|
So what is my plan for trying to keep Advent this year? I'm still working on finding that Advent/Christmas balance, but here's my working plan.
1) Teach my children the Christmas hymns they need to learn for the church Christmas program and worship services, and talk to them about what the words of the hymns mean
2) Create meaningful projects with my family that help us focus on the coming of Jesus
3) Attend Wednesday night Advent services with my family
4) Begin organizing our Christmas attire early, so I don't have last minute stress that refocuses my energy later
5) Celebrate "Stir-Up" Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, by preparing all of my cookie dough that day, and then freezing it to bake off as needed (I'll be posting more about this fun tradition in a few days!)
6) Introduce the characters of the nativity narrative to my children one at a time, slowly moving them toward the empty manger. AND remember where I hide baby Jesus before His big day!
7) Set out as a family to show mercy and kindness to others through acts of service
8) Talk to the children about our Christmas traditions and their connection to our faith, that is why we do what we do
9) Light the Advent wreath as we read the Bible together
10) Relax and remember that Christmas is God's gift to us
Truth be told, we don't have to do anything for Christmas, or even to get ready for Christmas. God does all the work for us - gift giving, forgiving, life-giving - at Christmas and always!