The time before Christmas is filled with decorating, shopping, cooking, parties, songs of Santa, and those cute calendars with a surprise behind each day’s door. These activities are part of the season’s festivities, but they are not what Advent is about.
The word advent comes from a Latin word which means coming. As a season in the church year, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Contrasted with the external preparations — the gifts and meals — the focus of Advent is the internal, spiritual work of reflection and prayer, of taking time to ready ourselves to celebrate the coming of Christ, both in his birth and anticipated return.
Advent is a time to examine our hearts, to clear away any resentment, self-centeredness, fear or other attitudes that place barriers between ourselves and others, between us and God. When our hearts are cluttered with these, there is little, if any, room for love. Advent gives us time to resolve such issues, to repent and ask forgiveness from God and others.
Advent is a time to reflect on how we see and serve Jesus every day. Do we recognize him in the beggar who stands on the corner with a sign stating, “Hungry — will work for food”? Do we see Jesus in the grouch at the office? If needed, Advent is a good time to realign how we see others.
Advent is a time to be still and wait and pray.
In the quiet, we can hear God. In the waiting for Jesus, we can prepare to meet him and accept his divine Love and offer him our love. Prayer will help us with our efforts.
When there are so many other things to do, this is not easy, but an Advent spent in reflection and prayer is time spent on holy work that deepens and enlightens the truth and beauty of the gift we are given at Christmas.
May we all have a fruitful Advent.
The Rev. Mother Kathy Swain is the Assisting Priest of the Episcopal churches of Grace, Winfield, and Trinity, Arkansas City.