Advent is upon us once again. And what a complicated season it is! It seems woefully misunderstood, and if I’m being honest, sometimes I don’t quite understand it myself. Is it exciting or somber? Joyful or penitential? Like many things in the Church, it is probably BOTH/AND.
Advent derives from the Latin adventus, or “coming.” It is a season of waiting and expectation. It seems that the Church asks us to be simultaneously hopeful about the coming of the Lord, and yet also sorrowful about our own sins. It can be challenging to wait patiently for the glorious celebration of Christmas when it seems contrary to the values of our culture today! Society seems to tell us we shouldn’t have to wait for anything. With Christmas decorations up all around us, it is so easy to ignore the season of Advent and jump straight into Christmas. There are cards to mail, trees to adorn, lights to hang, and then there’s the shopping. Oh…THE SHOPPING! How do we wait when the world around us tells us it is Christmas already? And, more importantly, should we?
The season of Advent reminds me of another season in my life when I had to wait. Twice I have had the blessing of waiting for my own children to enter the world at their births. During my pregnancies, I counted down the weeks until I would get to hold my baby in my arms. The end of the pregnancy can be a particularly difficult period of waiting. At 37 or 38 weeks of pregnancy the medical community tells you that you are full term. Babies rarely come on the exact “due date” often coming several days or weeks before or after said date, which only makes the waiting harder for many moms.
Although the waiting can be difficult it provides expectant moms with such a great opportunity. It allows us to prepare. As I approached the end of both my pregnancies I had to hold two things in tension: my excitement about meeting my baby and my desire to prepare just a little bit more. There is a term in the pregnancy world called “nesting” which captures the idea that parents want to get the “nest” ready for the baby. Since my babies kept me waiting past the 40 week mark, I was able to get my affairs in order at work, set up a nice space at home, have more prenatal visits with my midwife, do a little more of my birthing class, and most importantly, I knew that my babies got a little more time in the safe space of my womb which provides them with everything they need at that early age of life. Sometimes babies come early and parents don’t get that time to prepare. But when it comes to celebrating the birth of our Savior, God always gives us about three to four weeks of preparation time. And herein lies the wisdom of our Church. We get this wonderful season of Advent that allows us to prepare our hearts. We prepare ourselves to welcome Christ into our own lives. And is it not incredibly amazing that he wants to enter into our mundane and messy lives!
This advent I’ve been reflecting on how Mary might have felt as she approached the end of her pregnancy. She surely felt excitement as she waited to meet Jesus. She may even have been a little nervous. Knowing that Mary was a prayerful person, I believe she used the final days and weeks of her pregnancy as a chance to purify and prepare her heart for the coming of her child, who also happened to be God. This Advent, I’m trying to follow her example and do my best to temper the excitement of the coming celebration by focusing on the ways in which I can better prepare myself to invite Jesus into my life. After all, Jesus was already born. He already entered the world. Love incarnate was born into our world in the form of a baby! On Christmas we celebrate this miracle. But before we celebrate, let’s examine our lives and make our hearts pure, holy, and acceptable places for the Lord Jesus to reside.