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Watching and waiting, the right way
Last year, just a couple of weeks before Advent began, we welcomed the birth of our fifth child. In the afterglow of his mid-November arrival, and then the celebration of his early December baptism, it seemed easy to focus on the richness of Advent and all the spiritual gifts the season has to offer.
As Advent approaches this year, it seems the old distractions are back and the temptation to focus on Christmas lists, decorating and baking are back with a vengeance. While there is nothing wrong with wrapping gifts and making cookies, our human nature draws us away from the “reason for the season” more often than not.
We need to ask ourselves where our priorities lie this Advent — are we focused on the Babe in the manger or the tinsel on the tree? Are we anticipating a festive party that comes and goes in a tearing of gift-wrap and gorging of treats, leaving us with a sentimental and sometimes lonely feeling after Dec. 25? Or are we readying our hearts for a celebration of true joy, focused on the Incarnation of Love Itself, lasting for eternity?
With five children in the house, we have taken some steps over the years to ensure our children know that Advent is Advent and Christmas doesn’t start until Christmas Day, contrary to all the signs they see around them. With the constant bombardment of commercial Christmas ongoing since the day after Halloween, it’s important for parents to teach their children that there is so much more to Christmas than all the red-and-green sensory overload. Without Advent there could be no Christmas. Jesus is the “long-awaited Messiah.” As Catholics, the Church has given us these four weeks to make our hearts yearn for His coming, but we have to set the stage to make that happen.
First of all, practically speaking, let’s address the biggest distraction of the season: Christmas shopping. A big help is to get the bulk of the Christmas shopping done before Advent begins. Some people may choose to buy, make and wrap everything down to the last stocking stuffer before that first purple candle is lit. This does not have to be a hard and fast rule, but, generally, if the majority of the gifts are taken care of before Advent, there is a greater sense of peace and ability to focus on the spiritual.
On a side note, if gift-giving has become nothing but a gigantic jigsaw puzzle of who-gets-what and what-gets-sent-where, i.e., a major source of stress, it’s time to re-evaluate the whole system and transform it into one where obligation gives way to true charity.
Secondly, make sure your home has an Advent wreath. Children love participating in the lighting of the candles, learning of their significance and praying the special prayers that go along with each candle. It becomes a privilege for each child to take their turn leading the prayers. If a child is too young to light a candle, perhaps he or she can be the official “blower-outer.”
Don’t forget to draw the children’s attention to the Advent wreath at church, talk about how it is like the one in your home and how your home is actually a “domestic church” where God is invited to dwell. Over the years, we’ve distracted many a fussy child during Mass by telling them to look at the Advent wreath and notice its various details.
Thirdly, try to make a point to read the Sunday Gospel as a family, before Sunday Mass. You’ll notice that this year’s readings are all about the anticipation of the coming of the Son of God, and the need to “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” as Christ tells us in the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent.
The next two weeks will teach us about the significance of John the Baptist and the preparation and reverence he shows us is necessary to welcome our Lord. Finally, on the fourth Sunday in the first chapter of Luke, we meet Mary, as she receives that great message from the Angel Gabriel and responds with her humble Fiat, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.” All of these passages will appeal to the imaginations and curiosities of adults and children alike, who can, together, explore their meaning as we prepare our hearts and homes for the coming of the Christ Child.
Advent is all about keeping watch and making preparations. Let’s ensure we are watching in the right direction and preparing for the right Person.
Lazzuri lives in rural Nova Scotia, where she is a wife and mother to five children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.