5 Tips for a Fruitful Advent During a Dark Time
It’s safe to say 2020 has been a difficult year. Even if you and your loved ones managed to avoid contracting the widespread illness or if your jobs were unaffected by the upset of the norm, it’s been a tumultuous year of not knowing what will happen. Health, jobs, the practice of the faith, travel, life events, mental and spiritual health have all been affected to some extent. In addition to the health crisis, it’s been a vitriolic and confusing election year in the United States. There have been violent acts in the United States as well as around the world. Churches and businesses have been burned and people have died. There’s a clear need to be on our knees in prayer more than ever.
The changing of the Church seasons always allows space for reflection and a reset of the spiritual life if we happen to be in a rut, but this year in particular entering into the Advent season is more important than ever during a dark and challenging time. The word ‘advent’ comes from Latin and means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’ and points to our celebration of Christ’s first coming as a child and our celebration of his expected second coming. Remembering his coming draws us outside of ourselves, it draws us out of the difficult circumstances in which we are tempted to wallow. The liturgy of the Advent season prepares the faithful for Christmas through the change of vestments and the beautiful readings and prayers that point to Christ’s coming, but below you will find five more suggestions for entering into the season.
1) Enter into the Waiting
Advent is all about preparation and waiting. The readings at Mass are all geared towards preparing our hearts for Christ’s arrival. They remind us of the waiting the Israelites did for the Messiah, and remind us that we should look out for him with just as much joy and anticipation. Waiting can be extremely hard and even painful at times. If we are low on hope or patience then waiting for something can be almost unbearable. This has already been a year of waiting – waiting for test results to come back, waiting to see if a job fell through, waiting to see if wedding plans changed, waiting for election results to be made clear. Many are despairing here at the conclusion of this year.
This is precisely why we need to reclaim the art of waiting with patience and hope. The Israelites waited hundreds of years for the Messiah. They waited for hints and guesses to be dropped from the mouths of prophets. They clung to their words when things seemed bleak. The time into which Christ was born was a bleak time for the Chosen People of God. Rome ruled in tyranny. Political unrest led to the slaughter of many. There was infighting between different religious factions. Rather than straining with impatience towards the goal of Christmas, let us enter into the waiting. Take each day as an opportunity to claim that day’s graces rather than trying to speed things along. What is Christ trying to teach you on each and every day of Advent? Meditate on the daily Mass readings. Wait with the Israelites. Wait with Mary through the end of her pregnancy. Pray for the grace to wait with patience and hope.
2) Feast on Feasts but Remember to Fast
Christmas is obviously a great time of feasting, but Advent is a bit of a strange time liturgically. Is it or is it not penitential? The vestments have been changed to purple, but it is not technically a penitential season. Perhaps it would be better to call it a season of joyful anticipation with a penitential tendency. Why did God become man? For the salvation of sinners and to make us like unto himself. We are meant to meditate on the sorrowful reason for our joyful hope: he became like us to redeem us! The Advent season is filled with many special saint’s feast days that have many traditions associated with them like St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, St. Juan Diego, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. These should be celebrated with due joy and ardor. Though not Lent, we would be remiss not to fast in some way throughout Advent. Though many no longer observe it, Friday is still a day for fasting and penance throughout the year. Consider taking on some kind of fast for Advent and offering it up not only for your own intentions but also for the Church and the world. In a year with so much confusion and turmoil, the Church and the world need even more prayers for conversion and trust in the Lord’s plan.
3) Spend Time with Mothers & Children and Reflect on How He Came
Christ came as a child to a young mother. Even he, the perfect man, came into this world as a newborn with intense needs to a perfect mother who was still probably trying to figure out how to be a mother while giving birth in a stable, receiving strange visitors, and then running for their lives to a foreign country. That’s a lot to handle. But Jesus chose to come this way, completely helpless and totally dependent. Mothers and children share a beautiful bond, but it can still be overwhelming for a mother especially for first time mothers of newborns or the mothers of multiple children. If you are not yourself a parent, find ways to support the parents in your life. Take families a meal, offer to hold the baby or babysit the young children while mom and dad take some time to be with each other, offer to clean the house while the mom with the clingy two year old focuses all her attention on her son or daughter. If you are a parent or the caregiver of young children, you are no stranger to how intense the needs of children are. You know how utterly dependent they are on you for everything especially in the beginning. During this Advent season, I invite you to offer up your struggles with their dependence for those parents or caregivers with less support than you. May we remember those mothers, fathers, grandparents, or others who are caring for children in dire circumstances. May we reflect in wonder that the God of the universe entered fully into the human experience and allowed himself to be born, to be fed, changed, and soothed in the loving arms of a poor girl from a small town.
4) Eucharistic Adoration – How He’s with Us Now
Jesus has died, he has risen, and he will come again, but he is also present among us now. May we spend Advent taking full advantage of his presence among us in the Holy Eucharist. Depending on where you are and what restrictions are currently in place, this may vary, but as much as possible try to get yourself to Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. It is how he meets us here and now. He is always present with us, but in the Eucharist Christ is present body, blood, soul, and divinity. May we seek every opportunity available to spend time with him in person. If this is not possible where you are, it is still immensely fruitful to meditate on his presence amongst us in the Eucharist and to make acts of spiritual communion, and to look forward with hope to when you will be able to receive him in the Eucharist again.
5) Keep Watch – How He Will Come Again
Advent is about preparing for Christmas, but it is also about preparing for the Second Coming. We know not the day or the hour, so we must be vigilant and keep watch for when our Savior will make his return. We are meant to pray for this every day, but how many of us do? As much as we might fuzzily think about Christ’s return as a far-distant reality, we are meant to pray for it with urgency. Life on Earth is generally good, but it is not what we are made for. We still live in a fallen world. We are made for communion with God in Heaven for all eternity. This is what we must keep before our eyes and prepare for no matter how troubled the world is. We must be ready to face him when he comes. May you keep close to Christ this Advent season, and prepare to celebrate his birth, but also keep watch and prepare your heart for when he will come again.