Every project requires advance planning and the right tools to complete the job.
Advent is a project of sorts, the purpose of which is to ready our minds and hearts to welcome the Christ Child when he arrives on Christmas. The project of Advent is inner transformation – a mental, emotional, and spiritual renovation, if you will. To do this, you’ll need to make plans and gather the right tools for the job.
First: Draw your blueprint. Ask yourself some basic questions:
- What do I want this Advent to look like?
- What are my spiritual goals?
- What is my deepest spiritual need right now?
Once you’ve got your plans, you’ll need a power source. Any contractor will tell you that even the best plans are useless if there is no source of energy to power his tools. You need an energy source for your tools, too. In your case, though, the “power” won’t come from an electric cord or gas generator. The power you need is God’s grace and it will come to you through prayer and the sacraments. You can do nothing without God, but with him, all things are possible. Spend some time in prayer before Advent begins. Ask God to show you what needs to be done and how to go about it. Ask him for the grace you need to make this a holy , fruitful Advent.
Okay. Time to pack your tool box. There are plenty from which you could choose, some better than others. You have to discern what tools will work best for you so that you can grow spiritually this Advent. However, there are five tools I consider to be invaluable for every Advent Tool Box.
- Bible (Scripture) The Daily Mass Readings for the Advent Season are the same from year to year and throughout the world. That’s truly remarkable when you think about it. At every holy Mass on any given day during Advent, all Catholics are hearing the exact same passages worldwide. Can’t make it to Mass? Read or listen to the audio recording for each days reading at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website. Ponder the day’s Scripture passages and let the Spirit speak to you through them. You also might want to incorporate Lectio Divina into your Advent schedule or choose passages at random to read and meditate upon. Spend quality time with the Word of God.
- Advent Wreath This isn’t just a quaint old German custom – its a tradition with meaningful and holy symbolism. The wreath’s evergreens remind us of continuous live, and their circular arrangement reinforces this. Additionally, the evergreen circle is a symbol of everlasting life and the eternity of God. The wreath has four candles – three purple and one pink – one for each of the four Sundays of Advent prior to Christmas. The purple candles remind us that this is a solemn time of prayer and sacrifice in preparation for Christ’s Second Coming. The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, and is a day of rejoicing in the nearness of Christ. With three candles lit and one left unlit, we’re instilled with hope and reminded that the Light has conquered the darkness. You might be tempted to skip the Advent wreath and jump right into decking the halls with festive Christmas decorations, but the Advent Wreath is an important tool for helping you to keep the timing of the project and tie you into the Universal Church and her Liturgical Year.
- Advent Crib This, too, is much more than a quaint old custom. Sacrifice and striving are critical components of Advent. The custom of having a small crib and filling it one by one with tiny pieces of cotton, straw, or even narrow slips of construction paper – one for each act of love or sacrifice – is a useful tool for keeping on track with your spiritual growth. The crib is dually symbolic of our hearts and of the manger in which our Lord was laid by his dear Mother on the Holy Night. We want to fill the crib with as many “straws” as possible before Christmas so as to make the Crib soft and comfortable for the Baby Jesus. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I made an Advent Crib from sticks I gathered from the backyard, cut to size and hot-glued together!
- Advent Music That’s right. I said Advent music, not Christmas music! Oh, for sure, the carols have been blasting all over the place since the day after Halloween. They’re really hard to escape no matter where you go. And, truth be told, they’re enjoyable to listen to. But listening to them now diminishes the Advent spirit. If you can’t escape them completely, block them out for a while each day and listen instead to some beautiful, sacred Advent music. It will put your spirit in order and help you focus on this grace-filled and precious season of Advent.
- Advent Space As we get closer to Christmas, it will become more and more difficult to tune out the jingles and carols and to block out the commercialism, festivities, and revelry. Face it, some of it will be absolutely unavoidable (the office Christmas party is a must and your relatives will never forgive you if you beg off on the family Christmas party). Fine. Do what you have to do. BUT, create for yourself and your family an Advent Space where Advent stays in and the rest of the world stays out. If you don’t already have one, set up a prayer corner (great place to put your Advent Crib, by the way). Decorate it for Advent – not Christmas – and keep your Advent Tool Box right there next to the comfy chair you’ve designated as your Advent Chair. Be sure to have whatever gizmo you use to play your Advent music nearby, too. This is your Advent Space.
Your Advent project is an admittedly huge one, but not an impossible one. With careful plans, God’s grace, and your Advent Tool Box well-stocked, you can do it. When Christmas comes, you’ll be really, truly ready for the Christ Child.