As we begin the season of Advent, many of us feel torn. We sense a conflict between our desire to really celebrate the season by reflecting on the readings of the Church and concentrating on the spiritual meaning of Advent and Christmas, and the fact that we are constantly bombarded by the advertisements, the carols and the decorations that begin earlier each year. There is some wisdom in the encouragement that “if you can’t beat them, join them.” The super-busy, hectic, all-consuming preparations for and celebration of the holiday of Christmas are probably not going to change, but they do not have to dampen the real spirit and meaning of Advent. This year, I am determined not to have the usual tug-of-war.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I posed to my family, how they would suggest maintaining a calm and peaceful balance between the spiritual and secular preparations for Christmas. My brother, Dan, suggested fully entering into all of the shopping, baking, gift- wrapping and parties of the season, but also consciously setting aside a time each day or each week to pray and reflect on what it means to have God incarnate in our midst. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time, but just a dedicated time to which we can be faithful.
My sister-in-law, Karen, advised constant mindfulness. She encouraged that while baking or wrapping or decorating, we enter into the experience fully. Don’t think about what else is on the “to-do” list or what you will do when you complete this task. Just do whatever you are doing with great mindfulness. Enjoy the lights, the colors, the aromas, the textures, the music, the friends, family and co-workers, the delicious foods and festive drinks. All are gifts from our loving God. All are a part of human experience and part of our natural world, which God wanted to share completely—hence, the incarnation.
My own idea is to look for the symbolism is what we see, hear and do. Candles can remind us that Christ is the light. Children’s voices can speak to us of hope, joy and love, while also calling to mind Jesus’ birth and childhood. Wrapped gifts can represent the multitude of gifts, yet to be discovered and realized from God’s bounty. Decorations show that this is truly an important feast for which we want to “deck the halls.” Parties and festive food and drink can represent the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, Christ, our spiritual food.
The beautiful season of Advent is to be lived, not just endured or tolerated. It is one season that holds incredible richness, not two seasons (one secular and one spiritual) that compete for our attention. Let’s make every effort to really celebrate all that we experience these days as we await the Feast of Christmas. Relax, enjoy, be mindful, be calm and at peace.
May you have a happy and holy Advent season!
S. Maureen Irvin, OSF
Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg