The good news: From my viewpoint, there is no wrong way to DO advent!
I know there are many people who believe that Advent is Advent — it is a time of preparing for Christmas. AND, Christmas does not begin until Christmas Eve. Before then, there are no symbols or semblance of the Christmas season.
From a liturgical standpoint, I maintained “purity” for the first two weeks of the Advent Season. The church was fairly bare with lots of purple and of course —- a HUGE advent wreath hanging from the ceiling in the center aisle of the church. On the 3rd weekend of Advent I added wreaths to the windows and an undecorated “Christmas” tree. Music was of Advent and no Christmas carols.
From the pastoral standpoint, I never put down Christmas decorations in the home, shopping, or Christmas music. I always thought — it is about both and — not, either or.
As I write this — and Advent has not even started — my home has a decorated tree, decor, and an ADVENT WREATH.
The key, for me, is how we use this time to WATCH. Each of us, individually, needs to choose what will help us WATCH.
Long before “multi-tasking” was a common phrase — if we look back — we can realize how much our mothers/moms were able to multi-task. They were able to cook supper/dinner while they made sure we did homework. They were unpacking groceries and transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer. They were taking care of us kids — while being attentive to our Dads. Moms then — and today — are called upon to do many things at one time.
So—-how can one not do Advent while starting to do Christmas — at the same time?
Do what you need to do to WATCH — while I DO what I need to watch!!!
God is about to do something new — something never done before. God is coming into our world and my life anew.
For me — this year — I am watching with the soothing lights and calming effects of the many symbols of Christmas — and a lighted Advent wreath. In the past, there have been years when only a few decorations have been out — and only a few poinsettias have adorned the house. Being watchful — expecting something new — is a matter of the heart. Externally, DO what is needed to slow us down to watch. For me this year — it was having things set early — and sitting back ….. others will rush around like crazy — and hopefully find a few moments of quiet — to collect themselves before Christmas. Your life situation dictates what you need and what is possible.
Traditionally, people have used Advent to:
1. Read a daily devotional
There are many devotionals prepared for Advent — some people use these daily reflections to ready their hearts for Christmas. Some make sure to read the daily Scriptures. Some attend daily worship.
2. Put up an Advent Wreath
Lighting the candles — one week at a time — reminds us that we are moving closer and closer from darkness into light. Our “four weeks” are moving by — even if we do not notice.
3. Finding some time for quiet
Even if we are busy with shopping, tying things up before the year ends, and getting ready for travel or to welcome guests — finding 15 minutes in the morning or 15 minutes at night —- to simply breathe deeply in the quiet — can collect oneself and focus on what is important.
4. Reaching out to those in need
Realizing how blessed we are — we see that others are not as well off as we are. We make Christmas better for others by sharing with them. Coats for kids — toys for tots — food for the hungry — all are worthy causes and deserving of our support — to the level to which we are able.
5. One visit to someone — a shut-in, someone in a nursing facility —
God came to us in the flesh in his son, Jesus. We can embody concern and love to someone who is mostly alone — a friend, a neighbor, a family member, a fellow parishioner —- someone who was once so active and present — but because of age or health is no longer present as they want to be. So — we are present to them as a representative of the BODY.
It seems to me, then, that preparing during ADVENT — preparing for Christmas — is about being deliberate. It is about choosing — to see and to be open to seeing. It is about watching for WHAT I NEED and what OTHERS NEED.
There is no one way to DO Advent. Advent — is about active waiting — attentive watching.
Let’s start now — and do what we need to do — one day at a time. Live these days in the spirit of the Jesus who has come and who is coming again ….. SOON.