For as long as I can remember, Advent has been my favorite liturgical season. I find the lectionary readings that fill the four weeks leading up to Christmas moving and thought-provoking, the songs People Look East and O Come, O Come Emmanuel are near and dear to my heart, and, well, I just love all the “smells and bells” that make up the season — such as the evergreen Advent wreath, the beeswax candles, and the vesper services that are a tradition in my home parish.
That being said, the four weeks of Advent fly by more quickly each year, and amidst all the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s easy to arrive at Christmas Eve feeling like I haven’t fully celebrated the season of Advent.
When I’m worried that I won’t honor a phase of life to my satisfaction — whether it be a liturgical season, my “fourth trimester” at home with a brand new baby, or the “back to school season” with a fresh pre-schooler, I have found it helpful to narrow my focus to the few things that matter most to me within that period of time. In other words, I name two to four priorities, write them down at the top of my planner calendar page, and work them into my daily and weekly habits for the season. Narrowing my focus both limits the feelings of overwhelm and enables me to know and honor my priorities.
When I consider celebrating the season of Advent, the three priorities that come to mind are ones that I first saw named in this excellent Advent in Two Minutes video produced by Busted Halo: expectant waiting, hopeful anticipation, and joyful preparation.
Here are ways that I plan to live into these themes this year.
Waiting is often associated with negative feelings. We don’t typically like to wait in line — be it at grocery stores, airports or the DMV — and it’s uncomfortable to wait for everything from phone calls from medical providers to news of test/election/work results.
But waiting during the Advent season isn’t meant to be a chore. Instead, it’s meant to be an exercise in peaceful patience, one in which we are decidedly looking forward to something else while remaining calmly rooted in the present moment. It’s a tall order, but one that would behoove all of us to practice, for what we cultivate in this season we can apply to the rest of our lives.
One tangible way to practice expectant waiting is through the use of a traditional or innovative Advent Calendar. For instance, this Paper Link Garland includes strips of paper featuring lyrics to Christmas carols; while the garland could certainly be created all at once, it can also be spread out over the course of Advent, with one link being added to the chain each day of the season. An activity like this one is a way to honor the season of waiting, to consciously recognize that you are building towards something else, while being grounded in the current moment as you physically build a chain.
I’ve mentioned before that anticipation is one of my favorite stages of enjoying a happy event. Call me crazy, but I relish in Friday afternoon even more than the weekend itself, half the time. What can I say? I love the feeling of looking forward to something, of knowing that “the best is yet to come.”
This sense of the best being yet to come is at the heart of the theme of hopeful anticipation. When we hopefully anticipate, we feel expectation and desire for the thing that awaits us…in this case, the coming of Christ at Christmas.
One way that my family practices hopeful anticipation is we set up our nativity over the course of the advent season, but we don’t add baby Jesus until the very end, on Christmas Eve. Laying out the manger, slowly adding the shepherds, singing Away in the Manger and The Friendly Beasts as we integrate the animals: in doing each of these actions, we build anticipation for the entrance of Jesus.
My family joyfully prepares for Christmas throughout the advent season by baking galore (we sample cookies as we pull batches from the oven, but then the rest go into the freezer for the Great Feast) and by decorating our home slowly throughout the weeks preceding Christmas. Garlands go out one week, the tree and ornaments another, outdoor lights another, and other decor another. As we decorate, we prepare our home — and our hearts along the way — for the greatest guest of all time.
On a more personal level, I joyfully prepare with my daily reading of an Advent devotional. I relish this quiet, peaceful time, made all the sweeter by the fact that I read and journal over a cup of coffee flavored with my favorite seasonal peppermint mocha creamer. If that doesn’t make for a joyful morning, I don’t know what does!
May this season bless you with patience, hope and joy as you make your homes cozy and your hearts welcoming for Christ and all God’s people!