By Sherry Antonetti
It’s Christmastime! There are only so many shopping days left! Have you put lights on your house yet, sent out cards, and bought sufficient gifts? Do you need something new to wear for the annual Christmas party? Have you planned the meal yet? Have the kids outgrown their outfits from last year? Who needs haircuts? Anyone require new shoes? Did you get paper and tape and ribbon—and did you remember that you have to mail these things by the 16th or postage is extra? Have you stayed in budget and on diet? Did you pencil in the pageant and the party at the school and the proposed neighborhood cookie exchange? Do you have everything? Do you have everything? Do you have everything?
Stopping to experience the gift of Advent and the season of Christmas requires willful action on our part to avoid being swept along by the Yuletide frenzy brought on by retailers and excessive exposure to Christmas schlock 24/7.
The sacred still is, but we have to lift the tinsel from our eyes to see the true Christmas star.
We all know that Advent, the four weeks prior to Christmas, is a time of blessed waiting, when we are meant to deepen our understanding of the gift that is Jesus. However, the secular traditions of the season often crowd our hearts. Without vigilance, we forget the true wonder of the Incarnation. Christ is with us. He is present; he is here. We can touch Our Lord. The reality of Jesus as fully human—such that if we lived then, we might approach his mother and ask to touch the unspeakably soft hair of his blessed head—is. We would inhale the fragrant sweet scent that is only found on a newborn and hopefully, recognize it was time to rejoice with all of heaven at his coming.
So how do we help tame our family and tame our lives so we can become a quiet stable, ready to welcome and house the Holy Family and Our Lord?
1) Get an Advent wreath. Even if you’re late to the party, get one. Light it at every meal. It is a simple way of calling all of us back to the purpose of this holy season. The calming experience of actual fire and light in an electric and often virtual world cannot be underestimated.
2) Walk with Mary and Joseph. They are the silent actors in this Christmas pageant every year. They yield their lives to God’s will, despite being told “there is no room in the inn.” The absence of words in their witness is telling to us. They are not overwhelmed with worry, despite the trials of travel and being with child. They are not anxious about many things. Offer the business of your daily life as a prayer to do God’s will for all around you. Offering up one’s daily struggles is not easy, but rest assured, it is a holy act of the will.
3) Fast from the secular world en route to work. The news will still be there when you get to your computer. If you are driving with children, have the oldest one read the readings for the day aloud. If not, use the time to listen to the rosary on CD or simply pray. Prayer and silence are a good way to remove the outside pressures the world brings to this sacred time. Listen for the words God is whispering to your heart.
4) Use purposeful decoration. Why do we decorate with lots of red? As a sign of Christ’s sacrifice and his blood. Why do we use gold during the Christmas season? As a mark of his kingship. Why do we put up lights? To remember that Christ is the Light of the world. It’s not about the reindeer—it’s about the dear One who reigns. A friend sets up her nativity set and has the three kings and shepherds stationed far away from the scene. Each day, the children move the various figures one step closer. Jesus is placed in the manger on Christmas Eve after Mass, so the stable starts out bare and grows fuller as the season progresses. Growing anticipation is part of the joy of this Advent season, which leads to the next suggestion.
5) Make time for unrushed loveliness. Strive to create a sense of beauty as a way to acknowledge the Creator of beauty. Just as God allows a baby to gestate for nine months before we have the joy of seeing a new soul, and just as the light from our brightest star takes 403 years to reach us, so also we must allow decking the halls to take place over the course of four weeks. Don’t race to get it all done. There is pleasure to be found in decorating that cannot be discovered if the sole goal is to be finished and check one more item off the to-do list.
6) Plan family time. Sit with your family and make a list of the traditions you hope to look forward to again next year. Pick and choose and talk about those choices, and then follow through. Involving others in Christmas preparations makes them less of a burden. Involving your whole family will lead to moments when you are surprised by joy, like I was when my 16-year-old took it upon herself to marshal the other teens to put up all the lights.
7) Practice the generosity of kings. Before you hit the mall, hit your closet. Clear out those shoes, those coats, and those other extras that could be a source of warmth and comfort, beauty and pleasure to others in need. Make room in the inn, and teach your children to do the same.
8) Practice the simplicity of the shepherds. They brought only themselves to the King of Kings. Bring yourself to adoration, Mass, and confession before Christmas. Bring yourself to Jesus, for we are all invited to come to the stable.
9) Sing joyfully with all the choirs of heaven. Every time we attend Mass, we are in the presence of the communion of saints, and the hymns and carols of Christmas are made for being sung with others. Expose your children to a choir or chorale, and let them discover the beauty of being part of a whole host singing with their whole hearts.
10) Invite others to come to the feast. If you know of family or friends who have been away from the Church or who are estranged or lonely, you can be the stable for others. Offer to bring them to Mass. Invite them to dinner, even if they say the equivalent of “Bah, Humbug.” Love is messy, active, and real. It requires that we not seek our own comfort, but instead seek to be the source of comfort to others. Make someone feel warm and welcomed and fed—or at least give them the opportunity. Who knows, one day, they may come to beg your pardon, to join the meal, and say, “God forgive me for the time I’ve wasted.”