I was lamenting to a friend that this Thanksgiving weekend I had to do something I never thought I would do... I put up our Christmas tree and other decorations. I have been the one who complains about aisles of Christmas rick-rack being displayed after the Fourth of July. I am the one who turns off the radio when Christmas music is played (the day after Halloween here).
I have nothing against trees and decorations, it is just that I need advent. I need the spiritual preparation that comes not from going right into holiday celebrations, but rather from quietly preparing for the coming of Our Lord. Advent is about preparing our hearts for His second coming as much as it about preparing to celebrate His first coming. I find this preparation difficult if all we do is start celebrating.
During advent in our house, the cleaning is done first. Then we slowly bring out the decorations. We say extra prayers, perform more acts of charity, and we make more sacrifices (this year the girls have voluntarily decided they would give up tv). We do our best to save treats, Christmas music, and a decorated tree and house until Christmas Eve. I kick preparations into high gear when we start the O Antiphons, but until then I try to keep the focus on preparing our hearts.
During Advent 2002. I was pregnant with Bear. She was already over a week late and I was anxiously awaiting her arrival. During a homily our priest related advent to pregnancy. He talked of the preparations that are made when one is getting ready to bring home a new little one. We prepare, we decorate, we shop for necessities, we may even prepare some food in advance. We don't celebrate as if the baby is already there. We don't eat birthday cakes, we don't sing lullabies, we wait until the baby is born. Then when the child is born we celebrate. We don't say, whew that's over, take everything down, let's get back to work. We take weeks to celebrate the new life. It marks the beginning of celebrations, not the end. This is how we should spend Advent. It is a joyful expectation, but it is a time of preparation, not of celebration.
Our society has done a good job of killing Christmas by killing Advent. We don't spiritually prepare, we are too busy going to this party or that, baking, shopping, shopping. and more shopping. If in advent we don't prepare our hearts, we are not able to truly celebrate Christmas. Christmas becomes an anti-climax and we are simply thankful it is over. Parties, cookies, and material gifts will never fulfill us, they will only put us in search of bigger and better. Advent is about shedding these material things and focusing on what is ultimately fulfilling, Jesus. Then we are ready for Christmas and we are able to enjoy those parties, cookies, and gifts, because we see them in light of the one, true gift-- God's love for us.
This year, I am giving myself a little break from being an advent warrior. I had to get these things done early since we leave in 8 days. I am reminding my girls, though, that I want them to remember to prepare their hearts. This is the most important lesson for advent and Christmas. I want them not to get caught up in parties, gifts, and sweets. I want them to long for Christmas, because they long for Christ.