As mothers, we know the way pregnancy changes us- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We eat healthy foods, exercise, drink more water, and take vitamins, all in order to provide the best nourishment for the baby growing inside. We absorb books and information on childbirth and parenting so we can feel more mentally prepared to fully enter into our new vocation as mothers. We find ourselves emotional at the stirring of life growing within us, at the thought of soon holding our sweet baby in our arms. We pray often- for a safe delivery and healthy baby, to be good mothers and good examples of faith and love to our child as they grow. We put the whole of our being into preparing for the arrival of our babies, into making sure we are ready to be the best mothers we can be. We don’t want to rush our pregnancies (except for maybe those last few loooong weeks) because we see the beauty of pregnancy in and of itself. We treasure the first glimpse of our baby on the ultrasound, the earliest flutter of movement, the first kick, baby’s hiccups. These little moments prepare our hearts for the big, beautiful moment to come- the moment we snuggle our baby in our arms and our lives truly change forever, for the better.
If pregnancy only lasted a week, we would never feel ready for the glorious changes a new baby brings to our lives. Just so, in rushing the joy of Christmas, as the modern consumer world tries to force us to do, we lose the true meaning of the season. We are surrounded (from the day after Halloween…) by trees, and lights, and celebrations, and wish lists. While it can be exciting at first, by the time the most joyful day- the birth of Christ- arrives, many of us find that the above mentioned things were the only things we ever had time to focus on, not the coming of our Lord in and of itself, which is by far the most important piece of it all.
So what if we approached Advent in the same way we approached our pregnancies? What if we put as much time and effort into preparing our hearts for the birth of Christ as we do for the birth of our own babies? This is exactly what we are invited to do as Catholics during Advent. We have the gift of an entire season of preparation before Christmas. We are invited to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ child. We can walk with Mary to prepare with her for the birth of her son just as we prepare for the births of our own sons and daughters.
Here are few examples of ways to prepare for the coming of the Christ child with the same importance in which we prepare for the coming of our own children:
The Empty Manger
When we are expecting, we put a lot of thought and effort into creating a new space in our homes for our little ones on the way. Often, the nursery is complete long before our due dates, and it serves as a comforting and exciting reminder of what is to come and the beautiful little soul that will soon fill the nursery and our hearts. We can focus on Christ’s coming in a similar way, by having an empty manger displayed in a prominent place in our homes as a continual reminder that we are awaiting His birth. Little ones can join in by being encouraged to do good deeds in return for a piece of straw to add to the manger. Explain to them that the goal should be to make Jesus’ bed as comfortable as possible before He arrives on Christmas day. Just like we want to provide a warm and comfortable space for our new babies, we can provide a special place for Jesus in our homes by serving Him through acts of kindness and love to others.
The Mary Candle
December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception and a special way to commemorate this feast is by placing a candle with a blue ribbon next to a Marian statue or picture. It can then be lit each evening (during mealtime or another communal time) until Christmas, as a reminder of Mary’s yes to God which resulted in Jesus’ coming at Christmas. The light can remind us that we are waiting on the Light of the World, just as Mary eagerly awaited His birth, and in just the same way we eagerly await the births of our own children.
Advent Calendar/ Daily Scripture Reading
There are many different options when it comes to Advent calendars, but I would encourage one that includes scripture and/or prayers. This version is great for kids and it’s the one that our family of twelve used while I was growing up. It tells the Christmas story through a series of small booklet ornaments. Each night after dinner we would remain at the table as a family and read the booklet for that day, then it would be placed upon our small Advent tree. It was a beautiful tradition and one that I plan to continue with my own family. For adults, there are many wonderful Catholic Advent books with daily readings and reflections that can help us focus in on Christ and prepare our hearts for His coming. This one from Matthew Kelly is a popular option, and I plan to read this book on the Christmas Story as part of my Advent reading this year. We read countless books and scour the internet to prepare for motherhood. We should spend just as much time each Advent meditating on scripture and studying the biblical Christmas story to prepare for the coming of our King.
Keep a Prayer Journal
The Advent season is a great time to spend more of our day in prayer, and also a great time to approach prayer in other ways than might be typical for us. A prayer journal can be a special way to put our thoughts in writing. It is a newer way of praying for me, and I have been surprised at how much pours out of my heart and onto the page, often things I didn’t even know I was thinking. Another approach to prayer journaling in the Advent season (and anytime) is to read the daily scripture and write your own brief reflection on what you’ve read. During pregnancy, many of us keep journals or write in books such as “Letters to my Baby.” It is a unique and powerful way for us to feel more connected to the life growing within us, but which we cannot see or touch yet. It is also a powerful way for us to feel more connected to our Lord and to share our hearts with our Savior during the Advent season.
These are just a few examples of the many ways we can put more emphasis on Advent this year, in order to make Christmas the truly joyful celebration it is. Let’s keep Advent what it is, a time of preparing our hearts and minds for the birth of our Savior (with the same vigor that we prepare for our own little gifts from God) rather than give into the ways of the world which focus only on consumerism and false joy. The more we prepare to receive Jesus, rather than Santa and presents, the more grace we will receive on Christmas morning- and that is a much greater gift than any we could put on a wish list.
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Copyright 2016 Kitty Marcenelle
This post first appeared as part of the Siena Sisters Blog-hop on Keeping Advent, Advent.
About the Author: Kitty is a cradle Catholic with a reinvigorated love for her faith, military wife to her handsome Marine (Mack) , mommy to her 1 year old pride and joy (Jack), oldest sister to nine crazy, awesome siblings, and a self-professed book addict. She can’t get through the day without coffee, Jesus, and kisses from her boys (not necessarily in that order). She’s just trying to do God’s will each day, and to share the love and joy she finds in His presence with others, starting right in her own home! You can read more at www.washtheplate.com or follow along on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/washtheplate.