What are the key first steps to enter into Advent?
We can all slow down. We can all breathe more deeply. We can all begin to trust that this will be a blessed time. Then, when we let ourselves be who we are, and hear the Scriptures, we can begin to quietly pray, “Come, Lord, Jesus.” We might expand that prayer, in quiet moments of our days ahead, “Come into my life. I trust you don’t mind if it is still messy. I believe you love me, because I need your love. I don’t fear you can’t find the way to my heart. Come and fill me with peace and the love only you can give.” Some of us will want to open our hands on our laps or hold up our arms in the privacy of our rooms and say out loud, “Come, Lord, Jesus, come into this house, into my family, into our struggles. Come and heal us, and give us join again. Come and unite us and let us experience, each in our own way, a bit of the joy you are offering me now.” And, before a single decoration goes up, we have prepared for Christmas’ message with the foundation of faith, with the mystery of Advent’s gift. God wants to be with us. Advent is letting God’s will be done in our hearts and in our everyday lives.
Getting in Touch with Myself
One of the best ways to prepare for the very special season of Advent is to "get in touch with ourselves." It may sound odd, but one symptom of our contemporary lives is that we can often be quite "out of touch" with what is going on in our very own hearts. We are about to begin our Advent, right at the time our Western culture begins Christmas preparations. It is a busy time, and our heads are filled with details to remember. And, it is a time of emotional complexity that is part of this holiday season - with all of the expectations and challenges of family and relationships: who we want to be with and who we struggle to be with. So, our hearts are a bit tender, if not completely defended from experiencing anything deeply. We are about to hear some very powerful and stirring readings from Isaiah, the Prophet. We will re-enter the ancient tradition of a people longing for the coming of a Savior. We may remember the days of our childhood when we longed for Christmas to come, because it was a magical time of receiving gifts. As adults, we have to ask ourselves: "What is it I long for now?" The answer won't come easily. The more we walk around with that question, and let it penetrate through the layers of distraction and self-protection, the more powerfully we will experience Advent.
The Two Parts of Advent:
Part 1: up until December 16
While most liturgical seasons have the gospel as their main focus, during the first weeks of Advent, the Church gives us daily readings from the prophet Isaiah. With the eyes of faith, these foretell the coming of the Messiah. Rather than a continuous gospel narrative familiar to us for most of the year, this part of Advent offers a wide variety of gospel readings that support the first reading of the day. After almost two weeks of Isaiah readings, we hear the foretelling of a Messiah from other prophets from the Hebrew scriptures - in Sirach, Numbers, Zephaniah and returning to Isaiah. With each passing week, the prophets speak more clearly of the coming of a Savior. So, in reading the first reading, for the first part of Advent, we listen to the anticipation, expectation, hope and promise. In listening to the second reading, we listen for the fulfillment or connection with the gospel.
Part 2: December 17 - 24
In these last eight days before Christmas, the relationship between the readings changes. Now the gospel brings us to our celebration of Christmas. The gospels are taken from the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. Each of these days, the first reading is taken from the Hebrew scriptures, and chosen to match the gospel. In many cases we can imagine Matthew or Luke having the first reading open on their desks while they wrote the gospel. So, we can read the gospel first and then read the first reading. The sense of anticipation and fulfillment builds as we read the story of the preparation for Jesus' first coming into this world for us.
Am I Too Defended for Advent?:
All of these traumas and states of inner disturbances and defenses can make entering into Advent very, very difficult. So, what do we do, if we find ourselves identifying with this defensiveness in any way? Is there hope? There is always hope! This is a season designed by our God to offer hope. Images from Isaiah, the prophet, offer hope to a people in the darkness and gloom of political captivity in Babylon. It is all language that offers us hope to believe that the coming of Jesus into our world is all about our personal liberation from whatever captivity we are in, whatever darkness or discouragement envelops us.
If we can read this prophetic announcement with an open enough heart to hear it as addressed to our personal situation, then Advent has begun in us. It is simple. It involves imagining that God can do this. We don't need to know how, to rationally figure it out, to begin to have evidence, or figure out how those who hurt us will pay for what they did. All we have to do is listen to how "good news" sounds in our ears. If a tiny bit of our hearts longs for this to be true, if even one image here or one phrase stirs something in us, then we are letting our defenses down enough to let the Holy Spirit in. And, God's Spirit can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. If we can put down our guard enough to imagine that this season - these four weeks - could help us know God's love for us more deeply, could help us hear about the first coming of our Lord into this world, so that we can be opened to accept his coming into our hearts these days, then grace has entered in beyond the defenses and Advent has begun in us. Read these words slowly. If possible, begin by praying a simple prayer: "Come, Lord Jesus, Come and touch my heart. Come and be with me during Advent. Let your Word make me defense-less before your love."
Prayers During Advent:
Prayer in the Days Before Advent
My brother, Jesus. It happens every year. I think that this will be the year that I have a reflective Advent. I look forward to Sunday and this new season, Jesus. But all around me are the signs rushing me to Christmas and some kind of celebration that equates spending with love. I need your help. I want to slow my world down. This year, more than ever, I need Advent, these weeks of reflection and longing for hope in the darkness. Jesus, this year, help me to have that longing. Help me to feel it in my heart and be aware of the hunger and thirst in my own soul. Deep down, I know there is something missing in my life, but I can’t quite reach for it. I can’t get what is missing. I know it is about you, Jesus. You are not missing from my life, but I might be missing the awareness of all of the places you are present there. Be with me, my dear friend. Guide me in these weeks to what you want to show me this Advent. Help me to be vulnerable enough to ask you to lead me to the place of my own weakness, the very place where I will find you the most deeply embedded in my heart, loving me without limits.
Praying Over My To-Do List
I sit here with my list, Lord, and I know I need help finding a balance. I am so looking forward to Christmas Day, with the family here, the company, the wonderful celebration. But, Lord, there is SO much to do! When will it all get done? How will I maintain any semblance of inner peace in this "peaceful" season? I think, Lord, that I need some balance in my life. I feel so torn between wanting to cook and fill my house with wonderful welcoming smells, and wanting to finish decorating the house. I have shopping to do, the house to clean and cards to write and mail. When? How? Help me, guide me, Lord. Help me to set priorities around doing those things that will bring me closer to you. Maybe my house really is clean enough, or maybe I can ask my family for help. Can the cards wait until a quiet afternoon after Christmas? Can my house decorations be simpler? Is there more than a little ego involved when I want so desperately to have my house "magazine perfect" for the holidays? Help me rediscover the joy of simplicity, Lord. Help me to remember what I am celebrating. Help me to find it in my heart to call out, "Come, Lord Jesus."
Working in the Kitchen During Advent
What joy this brings me, Lord. Thank you for guiding me into the kitchen for some time of silence with you. The room fills with wonderful smells and I share tastes and samples with my family as they make extra trips through the kitchen on days like this. Thank you for each and every one of these special people in my family. They are like the ingredients of my own life, adding spice and heat and wonderful flavor and melding together into a unique dish designed to glorify you. You know, God, cooking is quite a bit like my life. It's messy, I get careless and sometimes things don't turn out as I had planned. But in the mess of my life, that's where I can turn to you. Help me when I have to deal with being so imperfect. Bless me with humility when I grapple with my own poverty. Let me feel how deeply you love me, even when all I have to offer is scorched and humble. Be with me Lord, in this kitchen today. Help me to take the time in this intimate silence with you, to pray for each person who will eat this food. Allow me to remember all of those around the world who have so little food, and bless those who share what little they have.
Praying Through Exhaustion
Oh Lord, I am so tired. It seems like the lists of to-do's get longer each day, the frenzy in my home each night gets wilder. It seems like the holidays have barely started and already I am behind. Help me, dear Jesus. Let me feel your loving arms wrap me tightly in the warm embrace of your endless love. Teach me to make choices about my time, to remember what is important this season and to say "NO" whenever my Yes would take me away from your peace. Fill me with patience, love and a sense of humor. Remind me of your deep love for me and let the fire of that love be something I can share with everyone around me.
Shopping during Advent
Dear God, as I look through my gift shopping list, I hold up to you each person listed on it. Slowly, one by one, I ask that the fire of your abundant love burn within each of them. I pray that the gift I find for each person will bring joy into that life. But, help me to keep a balance this season, Lord. Let me keep my buying in perspective, not to spend more than I need to or can afford. Let me not give in to the pressures of this world and not equate love with money spent. Let me always remember the many, many people who have so much less in material things. Help me to buy wisely, so that my choices will not burden those in other countries who are so deeply affected by this country's economy. And finally, loving God, help me to find time in the frantic moments of each day to become centered on you. Walking through a store, riding on the bus, hurrying down a street: let each of these times be moments when I can remember your incredible love for me and rejoice in it.
Advent as I Consider the World Situation
God of comfort, these times seem so uncertain, so scary. The world seems darker than it has in the past and I am less sure of myself. Maybe that's a good thing; maybe now I am turning to you with a realization that I need you so much more and that my life is not in my own control. Let me not forget all of those around the world who are frightened at this moment. Help those who are victims of terrorism and war. Be with those who have lost so much in the past year. Hold us all in your loving arms and let us be comforted by the strength and peace you want to much to offer us through the birth of your son, Jesus. Thank you for the many gifts you offer us.
Preparing for Christmas after the loss of a Loved One
Such a loss! Such a keen and tearing pain. Even when I am in a crowded room, there is a loneliness I never knew existed. Comforting God, I have turned to you so many times for solace, and I come again. While the world is bright and sparkling, my heart feels leaden and has an emptiness that cannot be filled. Lord, how can I enter into this season of joy? In my head I celebrate your birth into this world, but in my everyday life, I am filled with a grief that runs so very deep. You blessed me with a loving relationship and now it is gone from my life. How can I be faithful to that love and the memory of that love and my sorrow in this season of "Rejoice!"?? Tears are so close to the surface all the time and helpful friends who want to "keep me busy" don't seem to really understand that I need to embrace my grief. I am afraid of letting go of the sadness and losing the deep love connection I had. Instead of entering into the Rejoice of Christmas, I long for the sorrow of Lent. I beg you Lord, show me how the two are connected. I ponder the name Emmanuel and know that it means "God with us." With us. With me in this world, in this sorrow. If I look beyond my pain, I know that you, too, suffered so much in this world. I never understood so clearly before that Emmanuel is what your nativity is really about. You are in my world, in my pain. Thank you, Lord, for the loved one you blessed my life with. Grant me now in my grief, a peace. Give me a comfort that might not make the tears go away, but that lets me feel your presence as you take up a place deep in my heart, with me.