Despite the overwhelming presence of Christmas decorations and holiday spirit in December, many people still gloss over Advent. They might notice the Advent wreath at Mass or the change in liturgical colors, but before they are able to ponder what any of that really means it is Christmas Day, the Son of God has been born, and they have done nothing to prepare for Him.
As a young teenager, it would usually take me a week or two to adjust from the Thanksgiving mindset to the Christmas mindset and by then it was already Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent. I would find myself saying, “Father gave a great Advent homily today, I should definitely think about these themes this week,” or “Advent might be a good time to start praying more regularly.” Despite these thoughts, I would not think about the homily after Sunday and rarely tried to increase my prayer life during Advent. This seems typical for a lot of people. We come up with great ideas during Mass and then when we go home and promptly find other things to be concerned about. If we think about it, this is probably why we get reminded year after year of the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ … because despite knowing what Christmas is about, we don’t often take the proper steps to prepare our hearts and minds for the event.
And yet, Advent is the perfect time to reignite our faith and start anew. It is a time to practice the virtue of patience and to prepare ourselves to be open and ready for the coming of Christ. As Pope Francis said on the first Sunday of Advent in 2013, it is also a time to hope:
"Just as in each of our lives we always need to begin again, to get up again, to rediscover the meaning of the goal of our lives, so also for the great human family it is always necessary to rediscover the common horizon toward which we are journeying. The horizon of hope! This is the horizon that makes for a good journey. The season of Advent, which we begin again today, restores this horizon of hope, a hope which does not disappoint for it is founded on God’s Word. A hope which does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints! He is faithful! He does not disappoint!"
Pope Francis is calling us to reconnect with the beautiful mysteries of Advent, to rediscover ourselves, our faith, and the purpose of family. He is asking us to rediscover hope. Hope is not easy to have by itself, but it is easy to find when we prepare ourselves and when we seek to understand the mysteries of Christ’s birth.
But preparing ourselves for the Lord’s coming is easier said than done. There are many ways that we can embrace this Advent season with our parish communities, friends, and families. Consider trying out a few of these methods this year:
These are just a few suggestions to help you on your Advent journey. There are of course many ways to prepare for the birth of our Lord. The important thing is to prepare. Let us challenge ourselves each and every day to open our hearts to the Lord. Let us embrace this Advent season so we might be ready to receive the Son of God on Christmas morning.
For more information on Advent, check out our Advent Resources page here.
Nicholas Shields is a Young Professional in Washington, D.C.