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Advent
Day by Day

by Alice Camille

It's easy to lose things on Christmas morning, especially when kids are part of the celebration. Under the mounds of wrapping paper and ribbons more subtle gifts can be obscured, even thrown away by mistake. Yet these gifts can be more valuable than the doll house and Erector set. How do we protect the more vulnerable gifts of the day?

The most precious gifts of this season are easily lost. Christmas has become a commercial bonanza that has looped most of us in. Yet our goal as Christians is not a ritual celebration of a robust economy at the end of each year. Rather, our goal is to honor the great gift of Emmanuel, God-with-us, just as Magi once honored a child with precious gifts. While the commercial Christmas plays into our weakness and greed, the original gifts of Christmas were the coming of justice, peace and freedom.

How do we keep from buying into the "Christmas-as-product" idea offered by consumer culture? The Church's secret defense against the generic holiday being peddled is Advent. The season of Advent provides us with the brakes to slow down, recollect our values and reflect on what we celebrate. The Scriptures we hear at Mass call us to wake up and prepare for something wonderful. We pay attention to these stories and transform our hearts, first for ourselves, and then for the children, who learn from us the appropriate way to prepare for the Prince of Peace.

Would you give a child a stone or a scorpion if she or he asked for bread? Of course you wouldn't—though we often give them toys that restrict their creativity or perpetuate a rigid sense of gender, race and age. Would you give a drink to someone struggling with addiction? Of course not—yet we attend endless holiday parties where unhealthy food and drink are prominently featured. In a nation burdened by excess and troubled by addictions, the festive meal becomes a silent vehicle for a statement of faith. Like the celebrations Jesus enjoyed around the table, we can share our joy with a meal that is considerate of the well-being of our guests.

The following daily reflections offer both spiritual and practical ways to reject a season of debt and regret, and embrace the real joy of the coming of Christ.

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First Sunday of Advent

What time is it?

We have clocks on every wall, yet still we lose track of time. While the world is shouting, "Time to buy! Time to stock up!" it is really time to light the Advent wreath and contemplate its light against the darkness. Take a deep breath. Reorient yourself for the new season. Will another mass-produced gift this year enrich your relationships? Consider how to give the gift of time instead. Make coupons promising dinner for two, a play date with a child or help cleaning out a garage. Redeeming those coupons might redeem a heart.

Monday: A time to be grateful

Let us go to the house of the Lord (Ps 122).

The Catholic calendar is not a series of feasts to be observed so much as reasons to be grateful. In this season, our gratitude comes from God's generous presence in our world. St. Bernard said that we celebrate "three comings": the birth of a child, the return at the end of time and the daily coming of Christ into our lives. Embrace these blessings, and live gratefully today.

Tuesday: Give to God what is God's.

Justice shall flourish in his time (Ps 72).

We tend to think of justice as a legal matter. The Church defines justice as "giving to each what is due to each": honor to our parents, care to our children, forgiveness to our enemies and glory to God. It also means an active concern for the poor. The psalmist reminds us that Jesus comes as the Son of Justice. We cannot withhold justice from one another.

Wednesday: Comfort, comfort my people.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want (Ps 23).

How can we lend comfort this season? For those estranged or away from their families, December is the loneliest month of the year. Make a list of people you know who live alone, are new to your area or who have lost a loved one this past year. Include them in your family events, invite them to midnight Mass or visit with them during this season.

Thursday: Me, an evangelist?

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Ps 118).

Many of us are uncomfortable talking about our faith. The excesses of televangelism discourage us from buttonholing our loved ones and getting preachy. But we "come in the name of the Lord" as much by our actions as with our words. Debt- and anxiety-ridden people do not present the best witness. Share your faith by celebrating joyfully, simply and responsibly.

Friday: Spend time in the light.

The Lord is my light and my salvation (Ps 27).

Colored lights blink at us everywhere we go, and we are reminded that this is the season when light came to conquer the darkness. Celebrate the gift of light. A little can go a long way here. As much as the electric company appreciates the upped wattage, conserving energy shows stewardship for our planet. Light fewer bulbs, but more smiles.

Saturday: Heal the brokenhearted.

Happy are all who long for the coming of the Lord (Is 30:18).

For those who are grieving, Christmas may not come. Anyone who has lost a holiday season to divorce, illness or the death of a family member knows how hollow it feels to suffer while the world is singing carols. Walk softly with those who are in pain this season. Offer gentle presence. Listen as they tell the story and share their tears.

Second Sunday of Advent

A time to act

Prepare the way of the Lord! Advent is not only a season of waiting, but also of doing. Plan service projects you can do as a family, with friends or as a parish. Many parishes organize "giving tree" programs to gather gifts for disadvantaged families or forgotten folks in nursing homes. Find out what your local community is doing, or begin your own service traditions. Wouldn't it be great to hear children say: "Christmas is coming! What can we give to others this year?" Build new holiday traditions around giving to those who really need our generosity.

Monday: Saved and safe

Our God will come to save us! (Is 35:4)

What does salvation mean? It's a 10-dollar word we use a lot, but what do we get when we get "saved"? Most of us think we are thrown a lifeline to heaven and avoid the unpleasant alternative. But it also means we are safe. No matter what turns life takes, God is there for all who open their hearts. Every stable may accommodate a savior.

Tuesday: Singing is praying twice.

Sing to the Lord a new song (Ps 96).

St. Augustine first said that singing is praying twice. And this is the season to double your prayer volume! Hum along with the carols in the elevator. Sing hymns joyfully at Mass. Listen to Handel's Messiah or other sacred music of the season. Use song to enhance your prayer life—even a busy person has time to sing in the shower!

Wednesday: Forgive us our trespasses.

O bless the Lord, my soul (Ps 103).

Advent was originally celebrated in imitation of Lent, as a time of reconciliation. (That's why violet has been the traditional liturgical color.) The coming of God in flesh bridges the gap, widened by sin, between divinity and humanity. Christ is our peace. It is natural to make peace with one another at this time and forgive those who have hurt us in any way.

Thursday: Walking humbly

The Lord is kind and merciful (Ps 145).

John the Baptist was an irresistible character in his day. He was wild enough to be noticed, forceful in authority and compelling enough for people to come for his baptism in droves. Still he refused to call attention to himself, and insisted that he must decrease, so that Christ could increase. How can we increase the Christ factor in our lives?

Friday: The wise and the foolish

Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life (Jn 8:12).

The psalms reflect the notion that there are two kinds of people: the wise and the foolish, or the just and sinners. The wise person listens to God, and the foolish person thinks he or she IS God. Most of us probably have a foot in both camps. As wisdom is rooted in listening, spend a few minutes listening at the end of the day and cut down your fool quotient.

Saturday: The sacrament which makes our peace

Lord, make us turn to you, and we shall be saved (Ps 80).

Make time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent, especially by participating in a communal reconciliation service during these weeks. You can also make an appointment with a priest or check the times for confession in your bulletin. If you've been away from the sacrament for a while and feel nervous, ask a fellow Catholic to recommend a good confessor.

Third Sunday of Advent

A question of authority

"History is written in the deeds of men and women," a theologian once wrote, "but eternity in the actions of God." Only God can make the desert bloom, the blind see, the kingdom come. In this season, we might add, "and a virgin conceive." Still it's hard for us to imagine that everything doesn't depend on what we do and how much we can produce. Advent is a time to expand our trust in God's realm. When it comes to the powers-that-be, God is the ultimate power-that-IS.

For those days in the third week that fall on December 17-23, see entry for December 17.

Monday: Learn something new.

Teach me your ways, O Lord (Ps 25).

We are used to learning all the time in this age of information. But sometimes we forget to study our faith with the same regularity. Make it a habit to learn something new about what you believe. Read a daily verse in the Bible; find out who the people in the stained-glass windows are at your parish; pick up a title at the Catholic bookstore; join a faith-sharing group.

Tuesday: Remember God's special ones.

The Lord hears the cry of the poor (Ps 34).

Remember the disadvantaged. Especially in this season of giving, it is impossible not to consider those who depend on our generosity. Share what you have: money, canned goods, clothes or time to volunteer. Purchase crafts from self-help groups as gifts. Take food to shelters and soup kitchens. Form a caroling group at the local nursing home.

Wednesday: Kindness and truth meet.

Let the clouds rain down the Just One (Is 45:8).

Encourage children toward a less-manufactured Christmas. Get the whole family involved in making table decorations for holiday meals: Make sure you have plenty of materials around, like nuts, pinecones, yarn, crayons, paper and glue. Let family members make a tree ornament each year to represent themselves. Plant seeds together in the spring, and tend the young plants all year that will become next year's presents.

Thursday: Be the lifeline for a friend.

I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me (Ps 30).

The closer we get to Christmas, the more the seams in our lives become visible. A friend of yours may need someone to sit and share a cup of coffee and some love. Someone may need a babysitter for an evening, or help in picking up a relative at the airport. Be attentive, too, to your own needs during this season, and don't be afraid to ask for help.

Friday: Consider the stranger.

O God, let all the nations praise you! (Ps 67)

Last year, the bulletin in our college town advertised that homes were needed for foreign students during the holidays. Many did not have the money to go home, and would otherwise be alone in the dorms during the celebration. In the same way, someone in your apartment building or neighborhood may be grateful to share your table. Be ready to add another chair.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Blessed among women, chosen among men

Mary is remembered in our prayer as "blessed among women," as the angel once called her. Joseph was told in a dream that he was chosen to be the spouse of Mary and guardian of God's son. Mary and Joseph are remarkable people, but they are also very much like us. We, too, are blessed and chosen to be the women and men that God is calling us to be. The Syrian Church celebrates many annunciations to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and John the Baptist, among others. What is God announcing to you this season? What tidings of joy might you be willing to carry to others?

December 17: Be a peacemaker.

The mountains shall yield peace for the people (Ps 72).

Conflict in our world is both global and local. But the saddest kind may be the strife that exists among families. Is there anyone not welcome to your holiday celebrations? Are tempers flaring because of holiday stress? Commit yourself to being a soldier for the cause of peace. Avoid quarreling. Work for a spirit of unity.

December 18: God is with us.

The lives of the poor God shall save (Ps 72).

The word for redeemer in Hebrew refers to someone who pays the debts of a poor relation, so the poor one does not go to jail. It can also mean one who buys back the freedom of a person sold into slavery. God comes to be with us as redeemer, to buy us back from slavery to sin. We bring redemption too when we free others from any obligation to us.

December 19: Life where you least expect it

Fill me with your praise, and I will sing your glory (Ps 71).

Nobody looked for new life from an elderly woman or a young girl. But Elizabeth and Mary cooperated with God and opened a new door in salvation history. We are invited to carry life into unlikely places, too. Have a "kingdom party" this season. Don't invite all the usual people, who will only invite you back. Invite folks who will never be able to return the favor and be open to surprises.

December 20: The earth and its fullness

Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory (Ps 24).

Honor creation by resolving this year to make next year's celebration the most ecological holiday ever. Save this year's Christmas cards for next year's decorations. Purchase gifts or products from companies that protect natural resources. Use alternative wrapping paper, like the funny pages from the newspaper. Rework next summer's yard-sale treasures into unique gifts.

December 21: Spread the joy around.

Cry out with joy in the Lord, you holy ones (Ps 33).

Our family was large, and we always had an impromptu talent show during the holidays. Some of the "talent" was questionable, but the recordings we made and pictures we took gave us reason to smile all year round. However you celebrate, make sure everybody has a chance to contribute. Let everyone have a hand at cooking, washing dishes, setting the table, telling a story. From the youngest to the oldest, all should be encouraged to offer their gift.

December 22: Role reversals

My heart rejoices in the Lord, my savior (1 Sm 2:1).

Mary's canticle is a song about reversals. The mighty are brought down, the lowly are lifted up. Champion "the little ones" this season: children, the elderly, shy ones, fragile ones. Celebrate littleness, and put your strength and power behind those who have no one to speak for them.

December 23: Come to the quiet.

Lift up your heads and see, your redemption is near at hand (Lk 21:28).

It's almost Christmas. Breathe. Breathe. Take an extra-long prayer break today, and pray for your loved ones, those living here and in eternity. Pray for peace during this holy season, for the healing of division in families and among nations. Pray for those in need and those in distress. Pray for all those who ask for your prayers. Pray for the grace to do all that you are asked to do during this most busy season. Sit in the silence longer than is absolutely necessary.

Christmas Eve: Share the joy.

Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord (Ps 89).

It's time to reap the harvest you have sown this Advent season. Attend Mass with your family and friends and those who are your guests this holiday. Enjoy the simple gifts of laughter and companionship, and the chance to tell the stories of the past. Recall the gifts of the first Christmas: justice, peace and freedom. Christ is born in our hearts as we plant those gifts into the world anew.

Christmas Day: Glory to God!

For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord (Lk 2:11).

On this great feast of Christmas, rejoice in God's presence. Give glory to God as you open presents. Marvel in the presence of friends or family. Consider that all of the celebrating is merely a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.


Alice Camille
is a free-lance writer who lives in Berkeley, California. She holds an M.Div. degree from the Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley, and teaches in a variety of pastoral settings. She is author of
God's Word Is Alive (Twenty-Third Publications) and Seven Last Words (ACTA
Publications).

 

Next: Mary and the Millennium (by Avery Dulles, S.J.)

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