Laura Roland contemplates how is just as much about us journeying to Jesus as it is Jesus journeying to us.
I didn’t grow up celebrating Advent in a traditional way. We had a little Advent calendar that you bought at the corner drugstore. I looked forward to opening each of those little doors each morning, seeing a picture of something Christmas-y. While I’m sure the Holy Family was in there somewhere, I never really thought about this as waiting for Jesus; it was always about counting down the days until to Santa.
Fast forward 27 years later when I had my own children. I had no time for Advent. We were a Christmas celebrating family only. We decorated the house -for Christmas. We had stockings – for Santa to fill. We made sure that the children knew who Santa was. But Advent was something only really holy Catholics did. How could I take part in something so holy when life had me buried in the secular rush, hustle and have-tos? I didn’t have the time or energy to understand that Jesus was coming, and it was time to prepare my heart for Him. I only had enough energy to prepare for what the world told me was important: Santa.
It wasn’t until I begin teaching in a Catholic school that I learned what Advent was – and how to celebrate it “properly.” I went into overdrive trying to make up for lost Advents. Finding four candles, the requisite three purple and one pink, became my life’s work. Advent wreaths were purchased well in advance. I loved lighting the candles, praying those beautiful prayers with the children every night before dinner. All of it felt incredibly special. I felt special. I felt like I was finally doing Catholic Advent correctly.
But was I really? In hindsight, I don’t remember feeling particularly excited about Jesus’s coming; but I did feel a tremendous amount of pride with how my table looked and the fact that I now knew not to sing Christmas carols until Christmas.
Still caught up in the outward signs, I neglected the cultivation of the inner peace I so desperately craved but couldn’t name. Yes, craved. Longed-for. Ached for at times.
Fast forward to today. I am an empty nester with a lot of life under my belt. These days, with the help of lovely friends, good and holy priests, and a whole lot of quiet time with Scripture, I think I am finally living Advent right. Do I have candles and a wreath? Sure. But I’ve learned if I don’t light them every night or say the right prayer, it’s okay. Jesus is still coming.
I’ve come to understand that Advent is meant to be lived. It is just as much about me journeying to Jesus as it is Jesus journeying to us. It’s about a good and holy wait for that little baby to come to save me, you, the world. What I do in that wait to bring me closer to Jesus, to prepare me to receive Him, is the important part. That’s the living part.
Do the wreaths and the candles, the songs and the prayers help? For some of us, yes. For others, who are craving, longing for, aching for Jesus, but don’t know where to begin, even with all the outward pieces in place, Advent can feel empty.
So, for all of you who, like me, A) never got Advent growing up, B) never quite figured out how to *do Advent* right, C) long to journey to Jesus in this season but don’t know how or D) all of the above, I pray these ideas are helpful.
- It’s okay if you’re not feeling it this year. Understand it is a season and we aren’t meant to stay in a season forever.
- Think of Advent as a good and holy wait. Then pick one thing – and I do mean just one thing – you can do each day to help you journey to Jesus. Can you: pray one Hail Mary a day while preparing your coffee? Pray one Our Father while waiting for the car to warm up? Sing one verse of O Come Emanuel while you’re drying your hair? Write one line in your journal about something you long for? All of it counts. Practice over perfection.
- Identify things that are keeping you from the joy. What’s on your list of “have to do or else?” Is there anything you can move to another list named, “Things that don’t bring me joy – or Jesus.”?
- Stop scrolling. There I said it. In a world that tells us it’s all about Santa, the scrolling only feeds our insecurities, squashing our desire to ponder, wonder and wait for and then run to Jesus. If you must scroll, then add some beauty and light to your feed. There are literally thousands of Catholic accounts with beautiful prayers and inspirational messages just waiting for you.
- Display a Nativity, leaving the manger empty. If you’ve got littles (aka kiddos) at home with you or coming to visit, explain that Advent is Jesus coming to us and we need to leave room for him. The empty manger symbolizes our hearts. That’s where we are making room for Him during this good and holy wait. It’s where He will lay His head – literally and figuratively. While you’re at it. Tell yourself this too.
- Still not feeling it? Take it to prayer, to Adoration, to confession. After all, it is in these places that Jesus meets us, where He, too, is undergoing a good and holy wait too. For us. To complete the journey to Him.
Copyright 2020 Laura Roland
Image: Joanna Kosinska (2015), Unsplash
About the Author
Laura K. Roland is a cradle Catholic. She and her husband of 31+ years have 3 children and have recently added a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law to their ever-growing family. A former Catholic educator, she co-founded the women’s ministry Encounter Grace in 2018 and is a speaker, writer, mentor, and host of the new podcast, Short Story Longer.