by Carol Powell
The holiday season is the most stressful time for many adults. During Advent, which is supposed to be a time for quiet reflection and preparation to celebrate the most momentous event in human history, most people are scurrying around shopping, decorating, cleaning and planning for family get togethers. Children are writing letters to dear old Santa Claus and visiting the jolly old guy in shopping malls.
Very few pious souls are actually engaged and thinking about the real meaning of the Christmas season. Most people think the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends Jan. 6 with the visit of the Magi.
It surprises a lot of people that the Christmas season does not actually begin until the evening Mass on Christmas Eve and does not end until the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus in January.
The forgotten season after Thanksgiving is the season of Advent. Advent is the beginning of the Church year, a time to stop, to think back, to assess our lives, where we are going, what are our values, where we want to go in the coming year. It’s a time to think about the words of Christ: “What does it profit someone if he gains the whole world and lose his soul.”
During this season, we not only prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, but also prepare for His second coming at the end of time. And we prepare for our own deaths, when we will meet Christ face to face. Does this put a dark face on Christmas? Not if we are in the habit of remembering God’s presence at other times in our lives. Remembering God’s presence does not demand that we become monks. Rather, it means that we stop from time to time to communicate with God.
There are many times during the day when we can recall God’s presence – when we wake up, when driving, when walking to the bus or waiting for the train, when standing on line in the grocery store and before we go to bed. This demands deliberate effort at first, but gradually, it becomes second nature. When the habit is formed, holidays will cease to be a burden. We will find ourselves relaxing more and realizing that we don’t have to do everything ourselves. God is with us always, carrying the burden if we allow it. Then we will find longer periods to enjoy God’s presence and remember that presence when we are in the company of others, particularly those who annoy or irritate us.
During Advent, we remember that Christ wants to be born again in our hearts. We carry Christ there just as Mary carried Him in her womb and in her heart. We are called to give birth to Christ in our lives. We are called to allow Him to think in us, speak in us, act in us. That is the purpose of our existence. In a sense, Advent and Christmas are all year round. Every day can be a new Advent or a new Christmas as we begin to accomplish our destiny. No matter how we have failed in the past, every day, every moment, is a new beginning.
Powell and her husband are directors of faith formation at Our Lady of Mercy Church, Forest Hills.