Of all the liturgical seasons, Advent is the season that challenges me the most. As a person who has an abundance of energy, slowing myself down has proven to be a perpetual challenge through the years. Even as a child, the temptation to not open every square of my Advent calendar proved to be too much for me. I often gave in to the urge to open the next little door to get that small square of chocolate and my Advent calendar was usually complete by the middle of December!
I may be a bit more disciplined now as an adult, but the temptation to rush during this time of year still lingers. With its themes of waiting and anticipation, the season of Advent comes to remind us to prepare well for the birth of Jesus Christ anew in our hearts.
As a person who struggles to slow down, here are my three “Advent Be-Attitudes” that help me to savor this time and ease into these sacred and holy days.
The Blessed Mother reminds us that, even if we have to occasionally rush to get where we are going, when we get there, we need to be present, especially at the most important times. Mary went “in haste” to stay with her relative Elizabeth, who was also expecting a child — John the Baptist. In the Scriptures, we are not told that Mary and Elizabeth exchanged material gifts or presents. Instead, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth teaches us that the best and greatest gift that we can ever give to ourselves and others is Jesus. That’s what discipleship is all about!
Mary reminds us to set aside our own distractions and agendas so that we can simply be with God and others. Advent is the perfect time to be present to those we love, to take the extra time to give love and care to our family, friends, neighbors and those we meet.
Advent invites us to pause, to wonder, to savor. The Scriptures invite us to greater attentiveness and awareness of how God is moving in our midst. The first step of listening is not just to be quiet, but to tune in, to listen for what is spoken, but also for what is unspoken in every interaction — especially in prayer. In this, St. Joseph is our model. We know that, even though he never spoke in the Gospels, Joseph was a family man — for he had a strong faith, teaching Jesus how to pray and to love God. Even though we don’t hear St. Joseph’s words in the Scriptures, we can “hear” instead his silence. Joseph teaches us the value of silence in a world that is often loud and noisy. Taking time for silence helps us to grow closer to God as disciples.
Advent comes at a time when the world wants us to hurry, to shop and to do more to prepare for Christmas. In our world, waiting is often eschewed in favor of a “have-it-now” mentality. “Have what you want, when you want” seems to be the mantra of the culture today.
We first hear Mary speak in Scripture when the angel Gabriel told her that she would give birth to Jesus. When the angel spoke to Mary, she didn’t rush to get a “to-do” list together. Instead, she said, “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). She rested in being present to God’s plan and his love for her. Mary’s heart was open to the gift of new life and she rested in God’s stillness.
During this time of year, we may visit family and friends more often and invite others to our home just as Elizabeth did. These are all gifts to be savored. But if we give in to the worldliness of materialism, we often find ourselves distracted and tense rather than filled with a great sense of expectation and peace.
I have realized more and more that it is an act of great courage and defiance of the present culture to resist being pushed into Christmas and, instead, to consciously slow down and enter into this season of preparation and longing. Today, I still buy my children and myself an Advent calendar to guide us in counting down these sacred days. However, now I manage to wait and to open those tiny doors each day and to enjoy my chocolate as I read the Scriptures! Let’s approach Advent with an expectant hush, rather than a last-minute rush.
Stanz is director of parish life and evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay and author of “Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church” (Loyola Press).