Advent – the most wonderful time of the year!
By Roisin Spitzig
Every year around Hallowe’en I find myself starting to feel annoyed. It used to be that the Christmas hype didn’t get started until after Hallowe’en, but now it gets going by about mid-October! Have you noticed the Christmas ‘stuff’ creeping onto the shelves before the Hallowe’en candy is even sold out? It is pretty hard to ignore the over-abundance of Christmas commercials on T.V., as well as Christmas magazines and flyers. Each one wants to convince you that you can have a ‘perfect Christmas’ if you do their suggestion or buy their product. Recently I was talking with a group of people about Christmas commercialism and one of them asked “How do you avoid all the commercialism that goes on before Christmas?” I have found an answer to that question – ADVENT! It really is the most wonderful time of the year!
The Church, in her wisdom, has provided us with the perfect answer to counteract the Christmas hype. Advent, the season of four weeks leading up to Christmas, provides us with a beautiful solution. There really is something for everyone in this celebration of “Preparing the Way for the Lord!” It is a time of introspection; of quiet – the world muffled by snow and the bustle of autumn over. The days are shorter, the darkness is deeper and it seems a perfect time to look inwards, to reflect on life and where God wants us to be! I love to look into the starry sky on a crisp winter’s night and think about our amazing God! Have you ever wondered why it is that all nature, except humans, takes this chance to rest and rejuvenate?
Consider the readings from scripture that accompany this beautiful season as it develops. In this year’s cycle of readings we will hear: Keep awake! Be ready! Be alert! The Lord is coming! However, we are not told to run in frantic circles to prepare! There is the story of John the Baptist, baptizing the people and telling them to get their lives in order, to repent of their sins, to pray. We also hear about the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary and her acceptance of God's will. How strange these messages must have seemed, yet they were able, through God’s love, to follow the call that God had for them! The language of Advent contains truly amazing words – repent, trust, believe, PRAY! Do not fall asleep, do not be lulled into complacency, do not allow the world to interfere with what we, as Christians, know is right and true!
Another Advent tradition, the Advent Wreath, gives me many beautiful symbols to keep my mind and heart centered in Christ! Consider the shape of the wreath, a circle, which tells us that God has no beginning and no end. God is! The green branches remind me that, even in the depths of lifeless winter, there is hope for new life! Even in my darkest times, God’s hand is there to help me through. Light, possibly the strongest of symbols for us as Christians, reminds us of the Light of Christ come into the world. It has roots in our earliest days, in our baptism, when we receive the Light of Christ. Light is that beacon which calls us forth, leads us on our way and illuminates all things which are dark and frightening. In the lighting of the four candles, one each week, we build our anticipation of the coming Feast of Christmas when the Christ-light will come to us! Take that tradition into your home and make a family prayer of the lighting of the Advent Wreath candles!
Advent music is abundant and beautiful! Looking into the words of the Old Testament readings from the four Advent Sundays, it is obvious where Handel’s inspiration for The Messiah came from. If you are able to indulge in listening to The Messiah you will truly find inspiration for the soul as the music soars! Of course, as a musician, music is prayer for me! Often, at Mass, I have heard songs sung many times and it is difficult to ‘hear’ them anymore. If I really listen to the beautiful words of hymns such as O Come, O Come Emmanuel, People Look East or Ready the Way of the Lord, I find surprising food for thought and prayer! Check on the Internet or at the library to find recordings of traditional Advent hymns done by choirs and performers – sometimes a slightly different style can make the song come alive again! I love Mannheim Steamroller’s version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, for instance. Remember Carey Landry? He has a fairly recent recording of music for Advent and Christmas called “How Beautiful is the Child.” This new music is beautiful and prayerful!
An Advent Retreat is another way of centering myself and preparing for Christ’s coming. The Martha Center offers retreats during Advent that provide opportunities for solitude and prayer. If time is a factor, I like to make a ‘mini-retreat’ for myself each day. I take a few minutes to read that day’s scripture readings and then keep them as a focus throughout the day. I find that this helps me to focus on the Word and not the words of the world. The Word Among Us is another invaluable resource which provides a scripture passage and reflection for each day of the week. Even 5 – 10 minutes of solitude and prayer helps to keep me centered on what is important as I prepare for Christmas. Attending a Reconciliation Service at the church also provides much needed time for prayer and helps to ease me away from the distractions of the commercial world.
My family and I do a few not ‘so traditional activities’ that are part of our Advent tradition. My daughters and I spend time together making Christmas crafts and baking for family and friends. We have a lot of fun and get a chance have some together time in our usually busy lives. We participate in either Operation Christmas Child or an Angel Tree project to help us remember that many people have little or next to nothing at Christmas. We go caroling with the Knights of Columbus to take the gift of music to shut-ins. Bob and I spend an evening at the Lethbridge Correctional Center to take Christmas to inmates, many of whom have no one else to care for them. Maybe your Advent could include a family game night or movie night, spending time enjoying being together! Weather permitting, there is opportunity to see a live Nativity in Lethbridge. Be creative but keep things simple!
Commercialism is an insidious thing that creeps into our lives a million different ways! Many people find themselves feeling frustrated and harassed during the pre-Christmas season. I find that focusing on the Advent message of preparing the way for Christ is the perfect remedy for my frustrations, like wrapping myself in a warm blanket against the cold and looking forward to the coming of Christ at Christmas! Remember to keep special every day in Advent to await Baby Jesus. His Light is coming – watch for it!
Here is a website with a simple Advent wreath service for families:
and another with many Advent activities for families: