By Robyn Bruggeman
Advent has always been one of my favorite times of the year, and the Church invites us to fully enter into this rich season, which is also the beginning of the new liturgical year. This time leading up to Christmas is really meant for us to prepare our hearts for the birth of our Lord, and not just historically, but in how he continues to come to us constantly and will come again someday.
Advent is a time for us to slow down, seek silence and take mindful steps to be ready for Jesus. It can be quite the challenge when everything around us is swirling around faster than snowflakes in the South Dakota wind. Oftentimes, people are so caught up in preparation for the holidays that they find themselves hardly taking any time to actually contemplate why they’re preparing in the first place.
We are so blessed that the Church in her wisdom has the season of Advent so we have time to get into the right mindset for the birth of Jesus! And the Church in her beauty has everything ordered and timed perfectly within the liturgical year. All we need to do is enter fully into it.
Our family has many traditions, and some vary from year to year. We do whatever fits our family for the season of life we’re in. The Church helps us by giving each of the four weeks its own theme (hope, love, joy and peace) to ponder, offering an easy way to align our thoughts to the season.
The Advent wreath is a staple in our house, and when that comes out we know it’s really time to enter into the season. I love the progression of light. We start in darkness, and each week during Advent we light another candle. The light gets brighter, representing the light of Christ coming into a dark world. And on Christmas, we finally have the Christ candle, just as the world has the light of Christ.
One of our newer rituals is reciting the St. Andrew Christmas Anticipation prayer at mealtimes. We have it hanging or framed throughout the kitchen so it can be easily accessed throughout the day. The prayer quiets your mind and draws you back to the coming of the Lord.
Most years we do the Jesse Tree, which tells the story of salvation history with scripture using Jesus’ family tree and leading up to his birth. We also take part in the O Antiphons, which are a combination of prayers and scripture. They’re an ancient tradition tied to the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and they draw you in deeply during the final days of Advent.
Many parishes offer additional times for the sacrament of confession during Advent. Nothing cleans up our hearts the way that sacrament does! Though it isn’t required to go to confession before Christmas, it is strongly recommended. Just like parents make sure to have the nursery clean and ready for a new baby to come home, we should do the same with our hearts for Jesus.
That’s not all, though. We have lots and lots of holiday books, but rather than bring them out right after Thanksgiving, we wrap each one individually and have the kids open them one at a time throughout Advent. It adds to the anticipation of Christmas, and each book that retells the Nativity story is an opportunity to slow down and envelope ourselves in God’s love. It’s fun to see the kids get re-excited about our collection of books each year.
We also have a large Christmas puzzle we all work on throughout Advent. How can a puzzle not encourage you to slow down and ponder?
Probably my favorite tradition is our traveling Nativity. The stable is set up in our dining room, and the Holy Family makes their way throughout the house during Advent until they arrive on Christmas Eve.
There are many options for daily Advent reflections, whether you find them online, on an app or at your local Catholic book store or in a devotional like “Magnificat” or “The Word Among Us.” Many of them coordinate with the daily readings we hear at Mass. Reading the daily Mass readings is quite possibly one of the best ways to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ and fully enter into the rhythm of the Church. Whichever you choose, they are meant to bring your mind and heart back to preparing for Jesus coming. That’s the entire reason for Advent, after all.
The Lord desires closeness with us, to express his love to us. But it’s really easy to miss his movements when we’re caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, particularly during the holidays.
The Church offers so many ways to help us slow down, silence the noise, and help us make room for God. Choose what fits you and your family. Our faith lives are all unique, and the traditions and Advent preparations should reflect that. Just be still and invite Christ into your hearts and homes this Advent. Come, Lord Jesus.