We are now into the season of Advent, and with all that has happened with COVID-19 and the election, we may not have attended to our normal preparation for this lovely season.
Instead, we may have been concerned about who is coming to dinner for holiday celebrations, whether we will be safe, and if the gifts we ordered online will arrive on time. While all those considerations are important and valuable, they can distract us from the most important aspect of Advent: preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus on Christmas Day.
We need Him now more than we have ever needed Him: His hope, His reassurance, His comfort. Preparing ourselves for His arrival is no small task, and we must embrace the call to soften our hearts and wait for Him in this brief, but important, liturgical season.
According to most sources, Advent is believed to have begun in France as a preparation for baptism at the Epiphany in the fourth century. This followed the legalization of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine in an effort to unify the Roman Empire.
For the Christians of the fourth century who were attuned to the teachings of the early Church Fathers, Christianity was no longer difficult, as it had been in the first three centuries of this new faith tradition.
The early followers of Christ welcomed the suffering of Christ’s agony in the Garden and His Death on the Cross. To be a follower of Christ in the first three hundred years of Christianity meant that you had to be willing to sacrifice for the beliefs held in common with Christ and to stand firmly for those beliefs (Sir. 5:12). They had to be willing to die for their faith, just as their Savior had done on Good Friday.
When Christianity became the State Religion under Constantine, every country that was conquered by the Romans was required to have its citizens baptized and committed to following the Christian faith. The Council of Nicaea, which was held in 325 A.D., produced the Nicene Creed, and everyone in the Empire was required to recite the prayer, whether they believed it or not. Christianity was no longer challenging or difficult. In many ways, it seems that legalization forced allegiance, and the meaning that comes from suffering was lost, as well as standing firmly for beliefs they were willing to defend to their death.
For Catholic Christians in our day, we will not likely to be killed for our faith, but we may be ostracized or shunned. We may be canceled in this new “Cancel Culture.” We may be unpopular and even despised for our beliefs. And yet, we know we must remain faithful to what we believe is right and just, which we are strengthened to do through the help of the Holy Spirit, alive in our hearts and minds.
We must be intentional during the season of Advent as we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Our focus must be on waiting for something we truly want and yearn for, but is not yet here. What we are yearning for is a completeness, a fullness of the coming of Christ in our hearts and souls to help us feel whole in this fractured world.
When we do not allow ourselves to wait, we often respond to what we believe is an immediate need with anxiety. Anxiety releases chemicals into our bodies and brains that cause our heart to race, to feel panicky, and to become overwhelmed. It could be likened to a car that needs a tune-up and we have been too busy or distracted to get it into the dealership or garage for needed repairs and attention. The radiator can overheat and shut down the engine, which leaves us sitting on the side of the road, rather than at our destination.
When we do not practice the skill of waiting, we, too, can become overwhelmed and less functional in our everyday lives. Richard Carlson taught “whatever we focus on grows.” If we focus on the immediacy of our desire, rather than develop the skill of waiting, we are keeping ourselves in a less mature state of adulthood. If we want to become mature Christians, learning to wait is a important component of that desire.
However, we all know waiting for anything can be difficult, especially if it is something we really want. Perhaps we are waiting and hoping that a full baseball season will take place this year, and whether we are waiting for our team to begin practices or to sell season tickets again, this anticipation can be difficult.
Perhaps the movie we have anticipated for a few years is predicted to be released this coming year and we just can’t wait to sit in the theater with our family and enjoy it together. Or maybe it’s the anticipation of a new baby, either through birth or adoption, and we are all so excited for the arrival to our family.
Whatever you are waiting for, you know how hard it is to distract yourself without getting frustrated and impatient. It’s difficult to wait, especially in the world today when we have had such turmoil, due to the pandemic for these many months. Without question, waiting is hard. This Advent, don’t let the opportunity to practice the skill of waiting elude you as you wait for the coming of the Baby Jesus in your heart.
It’s not too late to attend to Advent, no matter how much or how little you have done to this point. With just a little planning, you can still make Advent a memorable season this year. You can have a virtual Advent lighting ceremony with family members who live distantly, or even across town, and not in your household.
Everyone will have their own Advent wreath at home, whether on the kitchen table to be lit at mealtime or in another room of your home where the family can gather comfortably. Perhaps on Sunday evenings, set up a Zoom call with your family members and have someone light the Advent candle or candles and recite the Advent prayers.
Enter into this brief season of Advent as you wait for the coming of Christ in your hearts, your minds, and your souls. Embrace this ancient, sacred season with hopefulness, anticipation, and joy!
Catholic Resources that May Be Helpful for Your Advent Preparation:
Kate is a licensed marriage and family therapist and works at Christian Heart Counseling in Stillwater. Kate attended St. Catherine University in the mid-1970s and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and taught middle school social studies for seven years, until beginning her at-home time with children for 18 years. In the 1990s, Kate attended the St. Paul Seminary of the University of St. Thomas and earned a master’s degree in theology and received a certificate to teach high school. She then taught middle school and high school Religion. During that time, Kate earned a second master’s degree from Saint Mary's University in marriage and family therapy and has been a therapist since 2011. In 2014, Kate went back to school for her doctorate in Educational Leadership, again at Saint Mary’s University, and graduated in October, 2019. Her dissertation topic was "Christian Counselors and Their Therapeutic Work with Multicultural Clients." In addition to her therapy practice, Kate writes a monthly column for the Catholic Spirit, the Archdiocesan newspaper of Minneapolis and St. Paul. She also blogs for Catholic counselors and teachers, speaks to women's groups, and leads retreats for women, couples, and families. For more information about her, please visit The Institute of Family Health and Well-Being..
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