A change in the liturgical season is a perfect opportunity to change something in how we live our faith. Are there certain prayers we should say more often? Is there a particular saint we feel drawn to learn more about? Do we need to receive certain of the sacraments more often? Questions and possible changes like these mostly occur during Lent, but another great time to reassess our spiritual lives is almost here: Advent.
Last year was the first time I decided to take steps to actually celebrate this beautiful and misunderstood time instead of using it as a countdown to celebrating Christmas. It was a time of great grace that allowed me to more fully understand the amazing miracle that is the Incarnation. The steps I took weren’t too big or special, but they helped to make it a fulfilling liturgical season. Here they are and I hope they help you, too.
1. Read the daily readings and meditate on them.
If you can go to daily Mass instead of just reading the readings for that day, then definitely do that, but for those of us who can’t, the readings of Advent can do so much to help you get into the mindset of the ancient Israelites as they awaited the Messiah. Throughout most of Advent, the readings are mostly passages that deal with being awake, with being grateful to God for his word, and with being ready for God to come to earth. The readings for Advent are like the whole of salvation history since the fall of Adam and Eve distilled into four weeks. They give us a sense of what we have lost through sin, show us the wondrous promise of our salvation, and tell us the story of those who, like us today, await the coming of our savior in joyful hope.
2. Try not to listen to Christmas music, as much as you can.
This one was the hardest to put into practice, especially when out in public or watching TV. I’m not the sort to listen to Christmas music too much, anyway, but making the firm decision to deny myself that kind of music was difficult. Suddenly I felt the urge to listen to all the Christmas songs, even the ones I didn’t like. I’m sure quite a few of us have had the same experience with giving up something for Lent. Also, I’ve noticed that if I listen to Christmas music too much before the actual season, then I am in no mood to sing those joyous songs when we are supposed to, liturgically speaking. In keeping that decision, though, I was able to keep my mind mostly off the joys of Christmas and stayed focused on the expectation of those joys.
3. Meditate on lives of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It’s so easy to focus on the lives of Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary after Jesus was born, but I found it incredibly helpful to think about their lives before the nativity. They were both faithful Jews, awaiting for the event the Jews had been seeking for a long time, the coming of the Messiah. God called them to have a great part in that event, in bringing the Messiah into the world, and in raising him. I particularly liked thinking about how God respectively called them through the Annunciation and through a dream, and how they must have felt after those encounters. I imagined they would have felt overwhelmed, both with awe at God’s favor with them, but they probably were also overwhelmed with questions. I also enjoyed wondering about how they might have acted as they were traveling to Bethlehem to be counted in Herod’s census. Were they afraid? Joyful? Concerned? Some combination of all three of those emotions? Thinking about the lives of Saint Joseph and the Blessed Mother in this way helped me to see them more as participants in salvation history instead of just people who were caught up in it, to recognize their incredible bravery in choosing to live out God’s extraordinary call. It also helped me to realize that I share in their call, in my own small way, of bringing the Messiah into the world and of ensuring that all I do is for him. You share in their call, too.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given about Lent (which definitely applies to Advent) was to pick one or two things and focus on doing those well instead of trying to do multiple things and failing at them. Hopefully these suggestions will help you experience a deeper Advent and will lead you to experience an even keener joy this Christmas. May God bless you, this Advent, this Christmas, and always.