Living Advent in a Christmas World
I’ve written (exhaustively? Perhaps) over the years about my motherly efforts to find the sweet spot of “liturgically-appropriate-but-not-socially-outcast” in our family’s effort to enter into the sweet, sacred nature of the season of Advent. On the one hand, I am the queen of my own little realm and I can set whatever course I put my mind to for the family ship to charter, on the other hand, we live in the world, my kids go to school, and our neighborhood is decked to the nines with amazing Christmas lights.
Also, here’s the part where I confess that I don’t really want to hold back my own holiday cheer, especially this year. As soon as Halloween was in the rearview mirror, truth be told, I started furtively scanning the radio dial for any trace of Christmas music yet to be aired.
Jenny, I’ve tried to give myself a firm mental shoulder shake, you are the adult. It is your job to set the tone for your family. Don’t be a child. Just turn the radio off and drive in monastic silence.
I’ve had moderate success in my effort to declutter this Advent season, at least mentally and emotionally. Avoiding all social media has been wonderfully effective. And somehow I’m finding myself in a better mood than most Advents of recent past, wondering if perhaps I’m doing something wrong since I feel so cheerful?
(If that’s not some good old fashioned Catholic guilt + distorted image of God for you, I don’t know what is.)
Here’s the thing. Advent can feel a lot like the end of a pregnancy. At least, a lot like the end of my pregnancies.
It feels uncomfortable. It tends to drag on, while simultaneously feeling as if you will never, ever get to the last item on your pre-baby checklist.
It feels like the whole world is clipping along at a brisk speed while you’re plodding resolutely toward a still far-off goal, vacillating wildly between excitement and despair of the blessed event actually occurring. Well wishers offer congratulations and gifts, winking that it’ll be “any day now!” when, actually, you have four and a half weeks to go, which is roughly a lifetime in pregnant chronology.
You’re tired and weary and so, so happy. It can be a little lonely, too, though.
I imagine maybe Mary might have felt this way. Not the annoyed, gritted teeth part, but the fatigue and the differentiated part. She and Joseph, plodding along on the back of a donkey to a place she had probably never laid eyes on, no layette prepared nor a birthing suite booked, but the Son of God nestled beneath her heart. And the two of them the only ones the wiser, save for, of course, the Wise Men, and her cousins Elizabeth and Zechariah.
Whenever I struggle with my semi scrupulous self assessment of how I’m “doing” Advent, I would do well to think of Mary.
Cold and weary, probably with an aching back and some serious discomfort sitting on that bumpy donkey back. She waited in expectant hope and also, I’m sure, had to surrender her desire to be there, to be safe, to meet Jesus.
It won’t “ruin” Advent if I let my kids watch A Charlie Brown Christmas a couple dozen times between now and December 25th. I respect the liturgical practices and traditions of other holy families, and yet, I don’t think we are ever going to become the people who hold back big presents till Epiphany or fast from all Christmas cookies until Christmas Day.
There is nothing wrong with doing either of those things, by the way! (Power to you for getting the best prices on all your gifts, too.)
But there is a reason the Church doesn’t require us to enter into specific, required penances during this penitential season the way she does in Lent.
Advent is a season of penance, but it is also a season of expectant joy. We meditate on the coming of Jesus the newborn king on that cold night in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and we meditate on the coming of Jesus our triumphant king at the close of history, when He returns in glory, garbed not in swaddling clothes, but in majesty.
We know what’s coming.
We know He is coming - really coming.
My heart is the stable that needs to be swept clean in preparation for Him, whether or not our Christmas tree goes up November 27th or on Christmas Eve.
My kids need to see the expectant joy balanced with the not-yet-here-ness of this season, so whether that means going to Confession once a week rather than once a month this season, giving extra alms to our favorite charity, or forgoing sweets on weekdays - feast days exempted - the point is, I think, that I help them set this time of year apart in their hearts so they know.
Something - Someone - important is happening. And soon.
Jenny Uebbing is the author of the popular blog Mama Needs Coffee covering topics of sex, life, marriage, culture, and the Catholic Church. She is a revert to Catholicism with a deep love for the Faith and a desire to grow in knowledge and understanding of what we believe, and why.