The first Advent spanned thousands of years, from the dawn of creation to the birth of Christ. God does not rush into things, and we have an opportunity each year to enter into the timelessness of God as we prepare for our own advent. Our world is all about instant satisfaction, fast food meals and Fed Ex for when we forget. But when we try to apply this mentality to our spiritual life, we barely touch the surface, and when that fails to satisfy, we are easily tempted to think the spiritual life is too difficult.
Advent gives us a time to slow down. Each year, we have 4 weeks to reset our priorities, to see how healthy our relationship with God stands. God’s promise of salvation is fulfilled in Jesus Christ; flesh and blood, born to Mary and Joseph over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, and who comes to us each day in the Eucharist, and who will come again at the end of time. Do we believe this, does it impact our lives?
Christmas is not about getting gifts or getting together with friends and family. These are important aspects, but they should flow out of the real reason we celebrate: the Messiah has come, he lives among us, and he calls us to himself. Our lives, both private and public, should reflect this through how we treat our families, our business associates, the poor, the homeless, all whom God puts in our lives. When we say yes to God as Mary did, we open our hearts to him as she did. In doing this, Christ grows in our hearts, little by little, as he did in Mary’s womb. One day we will no longer be able to contain him, and he will burst forth from our hearts, changing our world and the world all around us.
All of this begins only one way: prayer. We must become men and women of prayer if we want to change our world, beginning with ourselves. We need to be in touch with the One who is our creator each day. Begin with 10 minutes a day, read a bit of the story of the birth of Jesus before dinner, (Lk 1-2) discuss this with your children or spouse over dinner. In this way, it will be easy to finish the story by Christmas. Let this Advent be the first Advent of the rest of your lives.
In many Christian homes and churches, the season of Advent is celebrated by placing an
Advent wreath in a place of honor and lighting the candles. Oftentimes, in the home this is done at dinnertime with the family, and there are Scripture readings and other prayers said at this time. It can be an excellent opportunity to teach our younger children and deepen family devotion. Many families use other devotional items as well, such as a Jesse Tree or an Advent calendar, but the wreath plays a special part, as it can be a link between what happens in our homes and our liturgical celebrations in our churches.
While the origins of the wreath are not certain, they can be traces to pre-Christian times, where they were used as a sign of hope that soon the days would begin to grow in length. By the Middle Ages, Christians adapted this tradition as part of their preparation for the Christmas season.
The circle of the wreath is a symbol of God, with no beginning and no end, His eternity and endless mercy. The evergreen is a symbol of hope and eternal life. The candles are symbols of the light of Christ who will soon enter into the world. Each candle represents a period of waiting, symbolizing the 4 centuries from the prophet Malachi to the birth of Christ. The purple candles represent the time of prayer, penance and sacrifice leading up the Christ’s birth. The pink candle represents the joy of our anticipation, as we have come to the mid-point of the Advent season. In many Advent wreaths, there is a white candle in the center of the wreath, representing Christ who is at the center of this season and our lives. This candle is lit on Christmas Eve.
If this is not a tradition in your family, perhaps consider beginning a new Advent tradition. Making use of a wreath can be a means of deepening your family’s spiritual preparation for the birth of Christ, as well as help bring the family together for prayer and meals, which will help build and strengthen our families.
May God bless you and your families this Advent and Christmas seasons.