There’s something very special about the first Sunday of Advent — singing the familiar Advent hymns and lighting the first Advent candle. I always feel a thrill of anticipation that Christmas is just around the corner.
This year, I’ll be celebrating Christmas in The Gambia, a small west African country, where I’m spending the winter helping my husband run his tourist lodge. So, my prep had to start a little earlier than in previous years, and I actually found it hard to get into the Christmas spirit.
In the end, this extra time gave me the opportunity to concentrate on the true meaning of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation and a time to consider more deeply the miracle of the Incarnation.
So, this year, I’m going to focus on celebrating this season of preparation with patience and attention. I hope these ideas will help you experience Advent to its fullest.
Read to feed your soul
I’m being very intentional about what I’m reading this Advent and taking a break from my usual fare of novels and biographies to concentrate on books that feed my soul. A book of Advent meditations like Paula Gooder’s “The Meaning Is in the Waiting” opens my mind to new and broader ideas about Advent. There are plenty of other options to choose from: “The Advent of Christ: Scripture Reflections to Prepare for Christmas” or “Sacred Reading for Advent and Christmas 2017-2018,” by the Apostleship of Prayer, the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.
And instead of following your favorite source for news and entertainment, turn to more spiritual inspiration online like Busted Halo, Creighton University’s Praying Advent website, or this blog post from the Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski of the Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.
Meditate on being patient
This year, I want to focus more on the spiritual meaning of Advent, on the significance of waiting actively in anticipation of Christ’s birth. I’ve found it’s easy to get caught up with the endless preparations for Christmas, so I want to slow down, devote time to meditation, and deepen my understanding of the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation.
Each morning, I’ll be spending time with a series of Advent meditations. There are many Advent meditation books available, including “Waiting for Christmas” by Fr. Richard Rohr or “Watch for the Light” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others. You could also use a YouTube meditation like this one from Pope Francis. Follow a mini-study course like Stephen Cottrell’s “Do Nothing Christmas Is Coming” or use Busted Halo’s Advent Surprise Calendar with daily inspiration and challenges for a more spiritual Advent season.
I know I need God’s help to slow down and wait with patience — I’m not naturally a patient person! Using the thoughts and ideas I’ve read as a basis for my prayers, I can ask for God’s help to see how he is breaking into my life, and pray for others who need his help and healing at this time of year. I also like to use this “Prayer for Embracing the Wait and Patience of Advent” to help express my thoughts.
Reach out to others
While Advent is a time for inner reflection, focusing solely on ourselves tempts us to neglect our call to be good neighbors. St. James spoke very directly about how our faith must ultimately result in action: “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Turning our inward Advent reflections into outward actions shows that God is truly working in our lives.
This Advent, I’m planning to show God’s love to others in a practical way by donating to Send a Cow, a charity that provides farm animals and tools to families in Africa and Lend With Care, another that offers microloans to people in developing countries. Other ways to reach out include sending gifts to those serving overseas, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or inviting a student who’s away from home to share Christmas with you.
Plan with intention
Sometimes, the endless tasks on our to-do list can end up consuming our time and attention, making it all but impossible to focus on our spiritual life. With a little intention, we can learn to focus on God as we do these necessary tasks by praying for the recipients of each gift we wrap, mulling over something we’ve read as we stir the cookie batter, or making a mental list of the things we’re grateful for while standing in a long line.
I’m hoping that by cultivating a spirit of patience while anticipating the celebration of Christ’s coming, I’ll rediscover the true meaning of Advent this year.