Advent is not something we hear much about outside of church – or even outside of liturgical churches. If you asked a retailer when the “Christmas season” begins, they would probably say the beginning of November.

In our faith tradition, the Christmas season does not start until Christmas Day, and it is only twelve days long! How do we process this, when the culture around has pronounced that Christmas is already here? I would encourage us all to consider the ways Advent differs from Christmas, and conscientiously use the season of Advent for its original purpose: preparing our hearts and homes for Christmas.

The first day of Advent varies (depending on which day of the week Christmas falls on), but it always spans the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day. Like Lent, Advent is meant to be an opportunity to slow down, meditate on our lives, and “clean house” before the coming of Christ. While we are really good at preparing our homes, in the midst of the busy-ness of the season we often struggle to find moments of quiet to contemplate what Our Lord’s birth really means.

Let us consider these four questions:

1. How can I keep things simple?
The weeks before Christmas are notorious for being jam-packed with parties and events.  We also have important family traditions to keep alive. Plus, there’s church stuff, school stuff, concerts, plays… It’s almost impossible to keep up with it all! Perhaps take an honest look at our holiday calendars What is important, and what can we let go? What traditions or events should we prioritize, or live without? Maybe we buy a store-bought pie this year. Maybe we put don’t worry about buying new outfits for that work party. It is so easy to get caught up in the “spirit” of the season and forget the True Spirit of the season, which leads to question two:

2. How can I remind myself of the meaning of Advent and Christmas?
In our attempt to experience everything the “holiday season” has to offer, we often find ourselves physically, financially and/or spiritually broke: we have nothing left. For the sake of our own spiritual health and that of our families, we must find spaces of quiet and calm during this time of year. St. Michael’s by-the-Sea exists to serve as that place! Perhaps we skip one party this year, and instead we build or continue an Advent tradition that helps us connect with God. We can find opportunities to talk about Jesus with our families or friends, intentionally meditating on the reason he came to earth.

3. What traditions help me/my family build positive memories centered on Christ?
Every family has traditions that they hold dear. Some count down the days until Christmas on an Advent calendar. Some pick out a live tree as a family. Some go caroling in their neighborhoods and at retirement homes. The traditions we model will impact the experiences of the next generation. Not every tradition needs to be profoundly spiritual, but they should add to our experience of Advent as a time to draw near to Our Lord. Even simple and personal conversations with loved ones will affirm that we are each valuable and worthy in the eyes of God. Which of our traditions help us and/or our children experience joy in the anticipation of Christmas in ways that help us remember and honor God?

4. How can I/my family share the Good News of Jesus?
Many people we encounter in our communities and workplaces may not think about Christmas as a religious holiday. Of those who do, many do not know about, or see the value in, Advent. After examining our own attitude toward this season and meditating on the gift of Christmas, how can we look outward? How can we share the Good News of Christ’s birth with those around us? Just by pondering the first three questions, we are halfway there! People notice the way we spend our time and the way we treat other people. Beyond that, we can begin or continue praying for those around us. Pray that opportunities arise that we might share about our faith with the courage and wisdom promised to us in the Holy Spirit.

As Advent approaches, may we remember the what and why of our preparations. Keep it simple, draw near to The Lord, invest in meaningful traditions, and spread the word about Jesus through words and actions!

This article was written by the Children’s Minister, Becky Gleason. Photo by Alex Harden from Flickr, titled IMG_0220.