Monday, December 2, 2013

Making Advent count

Yesterday was the start of Advent, a season in the Church year that can sometimes be difficult for us lay folks to integrate into our faith lives. 

What makes Advent so confusing? 

First of all, there's the pull of the culture around us to an early celebration of Christmas. While the Church is asking us in the coming weeks to "wait" and "prepare" for Christ's coming, everything else around is is screaming "Christmas! NOW!" 

Secondly, there's no small amount of confusion in the proper "theme" that should be stressed during the season of Advent. The messages are mixed in a number of ways:
- The lectionary readings actually emphasis spiritual preparation for both the Second Coming of our Lord (with themes of final judgement and the coming Apocalypse) and for the coming celebration of Christ's birth 2,000 years ago.
- The liturgical color for the season of Advent is violet--the same as for the season of Lent. But while Lent is obviously a season that is penitential in emphasis, we're reminded o'er and o'er again that "Advent is not Lent." But in some sense, through the readings that encourage us to consider that Christ is coming again to judge the world at a time we know not, Advent has some characteristics of being a "mini-Lent."

So, where to start? How do we best take full spiritual advantage of the season of Advent and keep of proper balance in being both "fearfully" and yet "joyfully" prepared for the coming of Christ? 

Here are some tips from Nick Alexander that can help you to make your Advent count:

1) Pray!  Pray that God enlightens you in areas you need to grow in.  Part of this is to have a readiness to discard areas in your life that become a distraction from following God.

2) Invest in a solid Advent devotional.  Check out the Office of Readings in The Liturgy of the Hours for some great sermons from the Church Fathers.  Keep a sharp focus on the themes of WAITING, PATIENCE, HOPE, 2ND COMING, and LIGHT.

3) Move away from GIGO entertainment.  GIGO means “garbage-in, garbage-out”.  A lot of Christmas-oriented entertainment falls in this category, but so does a lot of what passes for TV nowadays.

4) Help those in need.  Tithe, if you’ve never done so before.  Give from your hearts to those in your community, or those internationally, who need your help.  I particularly recommend Mercy Corps.

5) Get an Advent wreath.  I would also recommend getting a virtual Advent wreath, for your desktop wallpaper, or an Advent app.

6) Create an Advent Music playlist.  Build this playlist using both classic Advent hymns and contemporary praise songs that are built on Scriptures/Themes that are prevalent in the season.

7) Actively engage the Christmas movies you do watch.  There are some great Christmas movies/stories well worth making a perennial each and every year.  Think of the takeaways from these stories, and apply them to your own Christmas walk.  Even some of the sillier entries have a moral backbone well worth heeding.

8) Use social networks to encourage your walk.  Actively seek out Facebook groups/blogs that will have a reminder of the season.