Advent - Preparing the Heart
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
I did not grow up in a faith tradition that observed Advent or the church calendar. But in recent years I have come to understand the value of observing Advent and engaging with the liturgical calendar.
I have always loved the Christmas season. First, for what it was for me - a celebration of the birth of Christ. Second, because it was a time when family gathered together. I have wonderful memories of my childhood Christmases - being with my parents and brothers, along with all of my grandparents, and occasionally my aunts, uncles, and cousins. In addition to spending time with family, I also loved the decorations, the lights, the winter weather, the gifts, the food, and the wonder of Christmas.
My children are all grown with families of their own now and it is with both fondness and curiosity that I remember Christmas seasons when they were growing up at home. As a wife and a mother, I wanted to re-create all of the things I loved about Christmas and incorporate them into the life of my family. These are the things I remember with fondness. I have had wonderful Christmases with my husband, children, and our extended family.
There are other remembrances of Christmas that I am choosing to think about with curiosity rather than with disappointment or regret... such as how busy I felt. It seemed like I was in a constant state of stress - which largely came from my perfectionism. I was always striving for the “perfect” Christmas. There was more to do than I could possibly accomplish and yet I still tried to accomplish it all - the perfectly decorated house, the perfect gift for every person, being involved in every event offered at church, hosting Christmas parties, helping with or attending all the Christmas activities for our three children (at church and school), and of course hosting the perfect Christmas Day with the perfect food. My perfectionism got in the way, but so did my busyness. I can remember year after year telling my husband, “I’ll be so glad when Christmas is over.” It is interesting how a season that I enjoyed so much had also become such a burden.
So, several years ago I began changing my thinking and my ways so that I could focus on the first reason that the Christmas season meant so much to me - the birth of Christ. In all those years of rushing through the season, I didn’t understand the purpose of Advent - which is derived from a Latin word that means “coming; arrival.” In Christianity, it references three important events - the coming of the Messiah, the arrival of Christ into the heart of the believer, and the Second Coming of Christ. Advent is about preparation of the heart. I’m curious about how I spent so many years preparing for Christmas Day and celebrating Christ’s birth with gifts, food, and family (all wonderful ways to celebrate), yet missed preparing my heart for that celebration. I missed the spiritual preparation of waiting and longing in the presence of Christ amidst the physical preparations of the Christmas season.
Yes, I could look back with regret and with shame over what I “should” have done to prepare my heart in all the years of the past. But instead, I choose to remember the goodness of God in those days. That even in my busyness we had truly joy-filled Christmases and we did celebrate Christ. My husband and I pointed our children to the real reason for the season - and now as adults each of them celebrate and embrace Christ in their lives and families.
Even though I have been engaging in the Advent season for a number of years now, I haven’t “arrived” at any perfect way of “doing” Advent. In fact, I’m not seeking perfection - especially since I am a recovering perfectionist. I’m also not “doing” Advent because that implies a list of “musts” and what I desire in this season is to “be” rather than “do.”
I’m approaching this season of Advent with wonder this year. It is like being on an adventure with the Lord. As I spend the next four weeks preparing my heart for celebrating the birth of Jesus, I hope that you will join me in the adventure. I encourage you to make space for the Lord each day. Light a candle as a symbol of the light of Christ coming into the world. Then grab your Bible and a journal and let God speak. (I’ll be using scripture passages from the Revised Common Lectionary).
I will also post blogs during my journey of Advent this year. I think it will encourage me to take this journey in community and I hope it will encourage you to be on the journey with me. If you are a member of my site, you can post comments on the blogs and share how the Lord is walking with you in the season of Advent.