Today is the beginning of Advent and the start of a new cycle of liturgical readings. In Year B, we will hear many texts from the Gospel of Mark. Today’s Gospel reminds us that during Advent and always we must stay awake. For the next four weeks, we will be anticipating the blessings of Christmas and preparing our homes and hearts for the upcoming liturgical season of Christmastide.
Readings for the First Sunday of Advent
The readings for the First Sunday of Advent, are taken from Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37.
Why do you make us wander, Lord, from your ways,
And harden our hearts so that we do not fear you? (Isaiah 63:17)
Stir up your power and come to save us! (Psalm 80:3)
God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. (Mark 13:33)
Advent is a time of stillness and of wonder. It’s not easy to be still when you are surrounded by so much frenzy. Yes, I can get caught up in the frenzy, too, when I am not paying attention. That’s why I like the Advent message that reminds me to “Stay alert!”, “Stay awake!”. A few years ago I received a note from one of my colleagues thanking me for helping him to see how the holidays can be enjoyed – without the mania and frenzy. It was a reminder to me of the importance of being calm and still throughout Advent.
Advent is also a time of beginnings. For me, that means new commitments for the coming year. You may recall posts from precious years where I talk about making “new year’s resolutions” on the First Sunday of Advent and not on January 1st. I would like to share them with you. In that way, I will feel accountable to you for keeping my promises! Throughout 2021, I commit to:
- Thanking more — Gratitude
- Needing less and letting go — Simplicity
- Sharing readily — Generosity
- Smiling and laughing more – Cheerfulness
The first three have been commitments for several years, now. I added the fourth during 2020 when coping with life seemed more difficult than ever.
In this time of preparation for Christmas, are there some traditions and practices that I ought to continue and some that I can let go? Which ones will I keep, even though celebrated in different ways?
An Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath is a good visual reminder of this season of stillness and light. I have been setting up a wreath in my home each year for as long as I can remember. I used to hike through the woods to gather lycopodia to make my own wreath, but now in Florida, I have an artificial Advent wreath. This year, my Advent wreath does not have the four traditional candles, but instead one large candle in a jar in the center.
Years ago, I learned an important lesson from my sister: A gift doesn’t have to be the perfect gift. It has to be simple, creative, and personal. There are other occasions for giving gifts throughout the year. Each year, I create a calendar with 12 of my favorite photographs of the current year, paired with my favorite quotations of the year. I also like to give hand-made ornaments from around the world, offered by fair trade organizations. This year, gifts will be limited by what can be easily packaged and mailed. All but a few gifts have already gone out in the mail!
Gatherings of Family and Friends
As our family changed over the years through weddings, children, relocation, loss of parents and siblings, etc., our celebrations needed to become more flexible. This year, we will need to be even more flexible and creative. No Montana visits, unfortunately, and Florida visits at times other than December 25, if at all. Thank God for Zoom! No staff Christmas party, and it’s too early to tell about lunch outdoor with friends. Yet, the importance and need to connect are still part of the Advent and Christmas seasons.
Cards and Letters
Connecting through Christmas cards and letters is probably more important than ever. I have been “on furlough” since last March, so I have the time this year to write cards. I usually send an “annual Christmas letter” to wish blessings on those whom I love, to inquire about their wellbeing, to share some reflections and photographs of the past year, and to assure people that I am well. A few people received cards from me in mid-November, and the rest should see them in the next week!
In December when daylight is so shortened, we become more aware of the dark corners of our lives and of the world around us. I noticed the shortened light in a dramatic way when I first visited Sweden in December almost 20 years ago. With so few hours of daylight, there are candles in every window – homes, office buildings, and retail shops. It is no surprise that my candelabra are from Sweden. For the past few years, I have added one new one each year. Now, all my windows have candelabra.
In this season, I enjoy listening to my favorite CD: Adviento by Jaime Cortez. A good friend gave me that CD for my long drive when I relocated to Florida 12 years ago. I think of her – and the transition drive – each time I listen to the Advent songs in Spanish and English. I recommend that you look for a YouTube version of Advent Litany (Letanía de Adviento). In some ways, it is an updated version of the traditional Advent hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.)
The music of the Advent season expresses simplicity and longing, inviting us to be still and to wonder. One such song is Carey Landry’s “Waiting in Silence” (OCP, 2002). The word “Maranatha” can be translated as “The Lord is coming!” (You can find a YouTube video if you Google the title and composer.)
Q. Advent is a season for fresh starts and second chances. At the end of an eventful year, how am I most in need of a new beginning?
Q. What are your traditions at this time of year?
Q. What if God’s coming is like that of someone deeply loved, for whom it is sheer joy to bake, clean, shop, and decorate?