By: Kathleen Cosgrove
If you’re anything like me, you’re likely to have been swept up occasionally in the cheerful hubbub and joyful chaos that surrounds the Christmas season. I love planning gifts or baking German Christmas cookies in preparation for a festive party, all while singing along with my son to classic Christmas tunes. Does it get any better than watching the Grinch’s expression when he realizes that Christmas “came just the same”?
Focusing on the message of Advent, let alone Christmas, gets even more challenging when you have a little one (or ones) enthusiastically gobbling up Christmas legends and holiday cheer, eager to hear more about these mythical figures in books and on the television named Santa, Rudolph, Dominick the Donkey, Frosty, etc. Most of us fall back into the parties and movies, tastes and smells of the season quite easily and rush headlong to get our holiday shopping done as quickly as possible. So often, we rush right past the meaning of the candles in our windows or the somber readings and homilies at Mass.
Christmas, to Catholics, means joy, merriment, and pleasure in the commemoration of our Lord’s Birth, and delight in our families and traditions. But celebrating Christmas before or in place of Advent can mean that we ignore the reflection and preparation asked of us. Tradition can be reduced to mere ritual if there is no substance or meaning behind it. The season of Advent should be devoted to meditating upon the virtues of watchfulness, wonder and preparation.
Since Christmas, in its many forms, is my favorite time of year, it’s all the more important for me to adhere to the Church’s calendar and the messages of the Holy Father, and show my son the virtues of patience and obedience. Instead of singing along to Christmas songs on the radio, reading the Bible or listening to a service of lessons and carols reminds me to slow down and prepare for Christ’s birth. I enjoy these preparations because they enable me to more fully appreciate the blessings and love of Christ in my life.
Now is the time for penance and the renewal of our identities as Catholics, called to be in the world and not of the world; to recall the promises of the second coming that are in these Advent Gospels, and to renew our intent, as Catholics, to be ready and waiting for Christ when He comes. This is a serious message, and one that is almost the exact opposite of the secular visions of sugar plums, cherubic angels, and red-nosed reindeer plastered in nearly every shopping mall or public square. But Christmas, in its secular form, is like candy: too much will leave you with nothing but a twitch in your eye and a hatred of anything jolly.
The Gospel’s message of being watchful and ready, while sobering, culminates on Christmas in a celebration of joy and blessing. Celebrations are always more meaningful when we review the trials and tribulations leading up to them. This Advent, after meditating on how far we’ve come this year, how necessary God’s grace is, and how blessed we are, it’ll be that much more special to delight in the full joy of the Nativity on Christmas day.
“O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.”
How do you observe Advent? Do you find it challenging? Is Christmas season changed by fully observing the Advent season?