Five practices for a meaningful and grace-filled Advent
By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
Advent, the period when Catholics prepare for the birth of our Lord and reflect on the Second Coming of Christ, is a time of great anticipatory joy. However, it also can be a challenge for those of us who aren’t practiced in the art of waiting.
Most people don’t want to be on a waiting list. We have developed a rush-hour mentality—expecting swift messaging, express shipping, instant cooking recipes, high-speed Internet connections and quick passes to avoid long lines in amusement parks. Many of us have short attention spans.
Due to our preoccupation, we don’t always notice how our fast-paced, high-tech world has conditioned our minds to accomplish tasks as quickly as possible. This season, let us purposefully slow down and reflect.
Let the Good News lead to a healthier lifestyle. Allow me to share some of the practices that I hope will help make your Advent journey a blessed one.
Visit someone who longs for your presence and needs your service.
After receiving the good news from the Archangel Gabriel, our Blessed Mother Mary went to her cousin Elizabeth to share the joy of being chosen to bear the Son of God. Mary stayed with Elizabeth, who also was pregnant. She went not only because she longed to see her cousin but also to provide assistance to her.
Presence with service is one of the best gifts we can offer to others. You can bestow the gift of presence upon a family member, friend or colleague. Or you can go to a prison, hospital, senior home, orphanage or homeless center.
Keep a daily Advent journal.
In the Bible, prior to the Annunciation, prophets foretold the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. Jeremiah prophesied of the Messiah. Isaiah spoke about the ruler. Micah said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. They are three among other prophets who foretold the birth of Jesus. In their writings, they described their deepest desires, longings and hopes for the coming of Jesus.
We can do the same. We can crystalize our thoughts and feelings about our waiting and preparation for the coming of Jesus by journaling. Your journal entries can be as simple as a word, phrase or sentence. You may want to use a daily devotional book for Advent to guide you. Committing your excitement, frustrations, achievements and struggles to paper can deepen the experience of Advent.
Be imaginative and create your own Advent masterpiece.
Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem and looked for a place to stay.
Other than that, we don’t know much about their journey, their period of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus. However, Advent is full of signs and symbols with profound meanings: candles, wreaths, trees, stars. These symbols serve as windows to God. They give us a glimpse into the mystery of the Divine. Creating art can help you fill in the blanks. You can draw, paint, sculpt, or crochet. During the process, reflect upon ways that you can welcome Jesus into your heart. Producing artwork can help you direct your mind and heart in the spirit of season. God can transform these ordinary objects into gifts of grace. We, too, are transformed in making art. Try it! You may be surprised by what you can imagine.
Participate in an Advent retreat or reconciliation service.
When Zechariah, Joseph, and Mary encountered God’s angels each one responded with humility and acknowledged their unworthiness.
Advent is time for us to reflect on renewing our relationship with God. It is an opportunity to look back and reflect on all the things that have happened throughout the year. Surely, there are many things that we did of which we are proud. There were also times when we stumbled in our lives, times that made us feel broken and unworthy. Local parishes often organize Advent retreats and common reconciliation services to help the faithful to prepare spiritually. Our participation is a great gift to Jesus.
Attend the Eucharist daily during Advent.
The Scripture readings during Advent offer wisdom and understanding of our Christian faith life.
We go to Mass not for pep talks and entertainment but for real-life transformation. We go to Mass not to feel good but to be blessed by God’s goodness. Our presence in the Holy Eucharist is a sacred moment during which we experience inner connection between expectation and the fulfillment of our waiting. In the Eucharist, we see and feel Jesus’ presence. It nurtures our longing and strengthens our hope. If we allow ourselves to remain still in the Eucharist, we realize that we are not waiting for Jesus’ coming. Rather, Jesus is waiting for our response to His Divine love.
No matter how fast-paced and hectic our daily schedule, we should find time and seek occasions in which we can pause, breathe, wait and be blessed by God’s grace. Advent season offers time to slow down and the opportunity to experience waiting—preparing ourselves for Jesus in a profound and spiritual manner. May the grace of Advent be with us all!