By Sarah Reinhard
If you’re like me, you find yourself, so often, at the beginning of Advent with a glassy stare and a list that’s longer than Santa’s. You’ll have shopping to do, baking to finish, wrapping and cleaning and a host of other things, all demanding your attention. And I haven’t even taken into account the day-to-day items that don’t pause in the face of all the extras.
For a number of years, I felt like something was missing from my Advent. A few years ago, I started to realize what it was.
Though I refused to decorate before the week before Christmas, and though I paid great lip service to the loveliness of the Advent season, I wasn’t preparing myself to welcome my Savior on Christmas.
I didn’t mean to turn to Mary. She was just there, in the Nativity. She looked so calm and serene. She was as different from me as it was possible to be.
How do you think she spent her Advent that year, when Jesus was born? Jesus was the fulfillment of a time of waiting much longer than the four weeks we observe every year before Christmas.
Maybe my Advent expectations aren’t what they should be. Maybe, instead of holding myself accountable for all the shopping, all the devotions, and all the possibilities for the season, I should pause for a moment.
Maybe, in whatever I choose to do this Advent, I should make sure my gaze remains heavenward, my heart waiting in joyful anticipation.
This year, I’m doing less during Advent. Through a series of planning strategies, I hope to have my Christmas shopping done before Advent begins.
I don’t like to shop. I never have. Though I’ll tag along with the women in my life who do love to shop, I’m there for the company, not the retail therapy they so enjoy.
So why do I let my tendency toward procrastination win over my abhorrence of shopping? Why do I save a task that I hate for a season when I’m supposed to be gearing up for the Savior?
Realizing this little fact – that I shouldn’t save a hated task for Advent time – has been a breakthrough for me. All of a sudden, I am freed, able to see Advent as something other than a time of dread.
Maybe you revel in the Christmas shopping. My point is to encourage you to remember the reason for Advent.
It’s not Christmas. Though we’re surrounded by plastic Santas and garland and all the trappings, we’re preparing for Jesus.
And He’s not here yet.
I find it hard to remember that Advent’s a time of penance and preparation in the noise of the world. Though they may be hymns blaring over the grocery store’s speakers, I’m not finding any holiness in them.
A few years ago, I tried something a little extreme. I put away my iPod. It wasn’t easy, but something was calling me to silence, and in that step, I found the therapy of Advent.
As a season of penance, it’s a great time to adopt a practice that will challenge you a bit. Maybe, instead of giving something up, you’ll want to try something a little extra.
Don’t think I don’t understand what I’m suggesting. I don’t have an extra 20 minutes a day either…but I find that when I give God some of my extra time, He always gives me back more, in patience or the grace to deal with challenges.
The voice of God is often described as a breath, a soft wind, a whisper. How do I expect to hear it if my eyes (and my mind) are filled with so much noise?
I have a confession. I used to hate Christmas. In fact, just the other day, “I hate Christmas” came out of my mouth unexpectedly.
But what I hated – what I still hate – isn’t Christmas. It’s the bustle and pressure and demand. It’s the feeling that I can’t win or even come in second. It’s the inhuman expectation that wells within me when I think of what needs done.
What I’m forgetting is that none of this is about me. Advent is a time of preparation, yes, but it’s not about how I do or what I get done. It’s a spiritual journey, and as I reframe my understanding, there’s only one place to turn: Mary.
She’s waiting for me, standing at the base of my mountain of worries and fears, pointing to another way, telling me that I don’t have to go near that mountain at all: there’s a way to avoid it and still get to the other side.
The way? Her Son.